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Who is Responsible for That E-mail Message?

Because e-mail messages can be sent and forwarded to multiple people, copies of the messages may exist in many areas of an agency. In most cases, the author, or originator, of the e-mail message is responsible for maintaining the "record" copy. However, cases in which the recipient has altered the message (made changes, added attachments, etc.), or when the message is coming from outside the agency (and therefore not documented anywhere within the agency); the recipient is the one responsible for retaining the message.


This graphic is based on a decision tree created by the Kentucky Department for Library and Archives and included in "Guidelines for Managing E-mail in Kentucky Government," last updated September 5, 2005.

Short-term versus Long-term Messages

In the context of this tutorial, the terms short-term and long-term are addressed from a technology perspective to be able to access e-mail records over time. Short-term records are those records that have a retention of five years or less. The retention determination is detailed in a records retention schedule. In general, e-mail messages with a five-year retention can be retrieved and accessed by using your e-mail client. As a result, if you have messages with a five-year retention period, you should retain them within the e-mail system.  


The content of the e-mail message, the reason it was created, and the administrative, fiscal, legal, and/or historical value of the message to the agency determines what kind of record it is.  E-mail message may have one of three different values depending on the content and function of the message to the agency.  Please note that public employees of Executive Branch agencies are subject to additional retention and disposition polices as outlined in Executive Order No. 18.  See item G1, E-mail Messages File in the General Schedule for State Agency Records [ http://www.records.ncdcr.gov/stateagy.htm#gs ] Executive Branch employees' e-mails subject to EO No. 18 will be retained in electronic format for 10 years.


Remember that it is just as important to save records for their assigned retention period as it is to destroy them when that retention period has expired (provided no litigation, audit, or other official action exists that would require holding onto the record even after the retention period has expired).

Long-term Messages

Long-term records are those that must be kept for more than five years. These records are of significant value to the agency, but do not need to be maintained permanently.  Because technology and software changes rapidly, (usually within five years), we recommend that you consider printing out e-mails with a retention period over five years. Under Executive Order 18, Executive Branch employees' e-mail is subject to a ten-year retention period. See item G1, E-mail Messages File in the General Schedule for State Agency Records [ http://www.records.ncdcr.gov/stateagy.htm#gs ].


The retention period is generally determined by assessing the record's administrative, fiscal, and legal value and is addressed in a records retention and disposition schedule.  When deciding what to do with these messages, consider:

Saving a record for 10 years in an electronic format might make sense, but what about permanent records? Records with a much longer retention period should probably be printed out.

Ensuring the accessibility of your electronic public records requires keeping up with changing technology. Specifically, migrationada-annotationis required when technology changes every few years. You must also be confident that your records aren't stored in a way that might cause them to be deleted, moved without your knowledge, or accessed by anyone without permission. Consider the costs associated with handling electronic records over time.

How accessible does the record need to be? Do you or your co-workers need access to the record on a regular basis? What storage method results in the best, most efficient way of accessing it?

Permanent Messages

Permanent records are records that have lasting historical value because they document or constitute evidence of state policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions. Only 5% of an agency's records are permanent records. These records may concern:

Every e-mail has attached 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. Currently, there is no law or confirmed case law to dictate how much metadata needs to be retained with an e-mail if there is a public request or during e-discovery. Therefore, the Department of Cultural Resources recommends that you keep permanent e-mail messages stored electronically in order to preserve the metadata. If your office currently prints and interfiles a copy, it is acceptable to continue this practice as long as an electronic version is also being maintained.





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