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Managing E-mail as a Public Record Continued

Classifying E-mail Messages

For state agencies not subject to Executive Order No. 18, it is the content of the e-mail, not its format that determines the retention period of e-mail messages sent or received in the normal course of state business.  State agency staff will need to consult the agencies program specific schedule to determine retention period.

Some e-mail messages might have administrative value, which means they are useful in day-to-day business, but may not need to be kept permanently. Other messages may have legal, research, or fiscal value that will decide the length of retention based on your agency's schedule.

Types of Public Records

Examples of public records that might be sent via e-mail include:

  1. Policies and directives
  2. Correspondence and memos
  3. Work schedules and assignments
  4. Drafts of documents for approval or comment
  5. Messages that initiate, authorize, complete a business transaction
  6. Final reports and recommendation

These types of e-mail messages need to be kept in order to provide documentation of day-to-day office operations and to preserve the history of your department; access to these records will also allow your office to function more smoothly from a business perspective when decisions and discussions are documented.


Examples of records with low value that might be sent via e-mail but do not be need to kept might include:

  1. Reservations for travel
  2. Confirmations of appointments
  3. Personal messages
  4. Messages that transmit documents without comment
  5. Junk mail



Match the subject line of an e-mail with the value of the message or the reason for saving it in this short quiz:  Toggle open/close quiz question

Value: 1
Match the items.
The task is to match the lettered items with the correct numbered items. Appearing below is a list of lettered items. Following that is a list of numbered items. Each numbered item is followed by a drop-down. Select the letter in the drop down that best matches the numbered item with the lettered alternatives.
a. Research Data
b. This e-mail has no value
c. Policy Change
d. Approval or Authorization
e. Negotiations
f. Formal communication


Confidential Information

Just because an e-mail message is identified as a public record, it could still contain confidential information that cannot be shared. If you are required to provide records as a result of a public records request, you must securely remove any confidential or privileged information from the records before releasing them.

Note that e-mails should rarely, if ever, be used to transmit confidential information such as social security numbers, financial or health insurance account information, or passwords. If transmitting this information is required, make sure you use encrypted technology to keep it secure. Contact your IT department for more information.


Examples of confidential information include:

  1. Information covered by HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), including health care, medical records, treatment, and billing information.
  2. Information covered by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), including student education records.
  3. Social Security numbers and other personal identifying information as defined in G.S. § 132-1.10 and §14-113.20.
  4. Trade secrets of your agency as defined in G.S. § 132-1.2 (1) and G.S. § 66 152.
  5. Information that contains other confidential information such as account numbers, signatures and other items as defined in G.S. §132-1.2.


For further information, click the link in the Learn More sidebar on the left of this page to read Laws Relating to Confidential Records Held by North Carolina Government.


All e-mail messages, including personal communications and other non-record material may be subject to discovery proceedings in legal actions, investigations, compliance, and audits.  All public employees and officials must respond appropriately to any impending action involving e-mail messages.  All measures taken in response to an e-discovery action also apply to e-mail messages retained by those working on home computers or using mobile/portable computing devices. If litigation is imminent, all records including e-mail must not be destroyed, even if they have met their retention period, until after the dispute has been resolved.   Thus, during litigation, an agency may be forced to stop following their retention and disposition schedule. Return to following the schedule after the legal dispute has ended.


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