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E-mail as a Public Record

Before we begin our discussion of e-mail as a public record, let's start with a few key definitions.


E-mail message : electronic mail sent and received via an e-mail system; the message consists of the transmission information that identifies the sender, receiver, date and time sent, as well as other technical information about the message; any attachments, including audio, video, or any other files, are included in the term "message."

Metadata: Metadata is often referred to as data about data. It is all the extra information about the e-mail not included in the body of the text. Metadata includes information about the sender and recipient, the data stamp, IP address, and more.

E-Mail Messages File.   Electronic mail (e-mail) messages sent or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any Executive Branch agency. (please consult Item G1 of the General Schedule for State Agency Records http://www.records.ncdcr.gov/schedules/GS_2009_updateamendment_20090831B.pdf)

E-mail account : an e-mail account is generally associated with one e-mail address; therefore a message sent to John Smith's e-mail account is a message sent to john.smith@ncmail.net.

E-mail system : the application that enables the user to compose, transmit, receive and manage e-mail messages (e.g., Microsoft Exchange or NC Mail).

E-mail client : the program used to view e-mail (e.g., Microsoft Outlook™ or webmail).

In this tutorial, e-mail will be used as a comprehensive term to refer to the entire process of sending and receiving messages via an e-mail system.

Executive Branch Agency : Executive Branch agency for purposes of this tutorial are the principle departments defined in G.S. § 143B-6 or those Departments to whom the Governor appoints a Secretary and who report directly to the Governor. The Departments are defined as the Department of Cultural Resources, Health and Human Services, Revenue, Environment and Natural Resources, Transportation, Administration, Commerce, and Department of Public Safety. 


E-mail Explosion

Even though government employees have been managing public records for decades, e-mail is a relatively new challenge. E-mail has been around for about 30 years, and during that time has exploded as a form of communication. Because it is used to transmit so much information, government employees have a plethora of information to manage, organize, and provide access to when needed.

Before we talk about the e-mail explosion, answer this brief question with True or False: Toggle open/close quiz question

Value: 1
E-mail is always considered a public record.


To put the quantity of e-mail in perspective, let's look at the building blocks of an e-mail message (and all electronic material, for that matter). An e-mail message is made up of bytes of data that a computer interprets to display a message in a way that a person can read it.


Examples of Byte Sizes

Kilobyte (KB)

1,000 bytes

2 KB: a type-written page

100 KB: a low-resolution photo

Megabyte (MB)

1,000,000 bytes

1 MB: a small novel or 3.5in floppy disk

2 MB: a high-resolution photo

5 MB: the complete works of Shakespeare

100 MB: one meter of shelved books

500 MB: a CD-ROM

Gigabyte (GB)

1,000,000,000 bytes

1 GB: the human genome, or a pickup truck full of books

20 GB: a good collection of the works of Beethoven

100 GB: a library floor of academic journals

Terabyte (TB)

1,000,000,000,000 bytes

1 TB: 50,000 trees made into paper and printed

2 TB: an academic research library

10 TB: the print collections of the Library of Congress

400 TB: National Climatic Data Center (NOAA) database

Petabyte (PB)

1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

1 PB: 3 years of EOS data (2001)

2 PB: all U.S. academic research libraries

20 PB: production of hard-disk drives in 2005

200 PB: all printed material

Exabyte (EB)

1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes

2 EB: total volume of information generated in 1999

5 EB: all the words ever spoken by human beings


Worldwide email traffic totaled 247 billion messages per day in 2009.   By 2013, this figure is expected to almost double to 507 billion messages per day. Also in 2011, research group Radicati Group, Inc., found that the typical corporate user sends and receives about 105 messages daily.  


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