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Public Records and the Government Employee

E-mail is a public record as defined by General Statutes 132 and 121.  Here are highlights from both statutes.


General Statute § 132-1: Public Records Law

General Statute 132-1 defines public records:

(a)            "Public record" or "public records" shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data‑processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions.

(b)            The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law.


Public records protect the financial assets and property of the state; the legal rights, lives, liberties, and property of the state's citizens; and protect and preserve records of historical value to the state. The loss of vital information needed to satisfy public inquiries, audit requirements, litigation requirements, or verification of actions or historical records could be incalculable. The proper management of public records including the authorized disposal of records that have met their retention requirements results in cost savings and greater efficiency in operating government for our citizens.

 In this tutorial, we will be talking specifically about e-mail messages. However, most of what you learn can be applied to public records in other formats as well.

General Statute § 121: Archives and History

So how do you know how long you have to keep an e-mail message, or any other public record, for that matter? Chapter 121 of the North Carolina General Statutes requires the Department of Cultural Resources (DCR) to develop retention schedules for public records created by all state agencies. These schedules are agreements between the agency and DCR for keeping or disposing of public records. A general schedule for records that are common to all state agencies is available, while each agency also has a unique, program-specific retention schedule. A records analyst in the Division of Archives and Records works closely with each agency to identify that agency's public records and apply retention periods that reflect the value of the records to both the agency and the state.   Your agency's retention schedules are located here: http://www.stateschedules.ncdcr.gov/. For more information on retention schedules, you can contact your agency's Chief Records Officer or Government Records at 919-807-7350.   Contact information about your Chief Records Officer as well as other information can be found at http://www.records.ncdcr.gov/cro.htm.


In summary, an e-mail message is considered to be a public record when made or received pursuant to law and ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions.


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