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State Records Management Email FAQs

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FAQS About Email Record Retention

Why can't I be given a list so I know exactly what to keep and what not to keep?
In a sense, you are.  That's the purpose of Records Management trainings and why it is vital for agencies to have Records Schedules in place and have an active Records Officer.  It would seem convenient if we could create a master list, specifically naming  records you keep in one column (including retention times) and listing records you destroy at will in the other column.  We have tried to do this with the General Schedules, which are meant to provide guidance for those records common to all or most state agencies.  The problem with us coming up with a clear-cut list is that state government is not a single entity but is comprised of several, varied agencies and every agency has different records which are unique to the function and purpose of the agency.  What may be important for "Agency A" to retain for 5 years might not have the same scope to "Agency B" who retains the record for 1 year or "Agency C" who doesn't have that type of record at all.  Records Management is here to help YOU manage YOUR records and to create schedules so your staff knows what they should be keeping as records and what they can destroy as a non-record.  Keep in mind that we are here to assist state agencies in managing their records but ownership and legal authority remains with the agency.

What is the consequence for holding documents longer than the prescribed retention period?
There really isn't a consequence.  Keeping documents longer than needed take up space that could be used for other material that has just begun its retention period. If it is digital material, you are paying for server storage on 'expired' material. It is not good practice and leads to poor management of an agencies records. 

Is there any recording of deleted documents that needs to be made when completing a deletion of records?
The Records Center will send a Disposition Notification for material that has reached the end of its retention period.  The agency then signs off that the material is approved for disposition. In some cases, the agency decides that they want to keep the material for a longer period of time. At this time the retention period is amended (through our Management Analyst).  From a digital perspective there is nothing that is recorded when documents are deleted. This would be up to the agency to decide; it may prove to be valuable later on.

Is the record really deleted when a user deletes the copy from their computer?
It depends on where it is deleted from. If it is stored on the C drive or desktop and they throw it away and empty their trashcan, yes- it is gone. The files can be recovered through a painstaking process using special recovery software, but for all normal circumstances, yes they are gone.  

Explanation from OIT site:  It's important to understand that your e-mail exists in two places: 

  • The active mailbox (inbox, sent, and other folders) are on the OIT Microsoft Exchange server.
  • Your archive (PST) files are not on the Exchange server; they are stored elsewhere - either on the network file space or on your PC hard drive.

When you think about your e-mail, remember that the active mail is in one place, and the archive mail is stored separately.

When employees leave, who is responsible to catalog and store information?
It is the responsibility of Agency managers and supervisors to secure and archive records of former employees. For steps on how to archive e-mail, see the instructions on the State internal website at: http://inet.state.me.us/foaa/archiving.aspx.

If there are several people attached to a particular e-mail, who is actually responsible to retain?
The person who started the email officially started the 'record copy' which is considered the original.  The only records that should be archived are those made or received in connection with the transaction of official government business; and maintained as evidence of the agency's functions, policies, decision, procedures, operations and other activities; or because of informational value.  There are often many more copies, because it is so easy to "cc" others and to forward messages. Generally the person who originates the message holds the record copy, which is the one that must be kept for the full retention period. Those who receive other copies should delete them as soon as they have served their purpose. However, if the recipient is required to do something after receiving the message that may mean an additional record copy has been created.

Example #1:  Your boss assigns work to you by sending you an e-mail. You will be held responsible for completing the assignment, so reading this e-mail and then following its instructions is part of your job. You must therefore treat it as an official record.
Example #2:  The Governor's Office sends out an e-mail reminding all employees to use public transportation whenever possible. This message has only one record copy, held by the person whose job it was to send it. Everyone else can and should delete the message after reading it.

If each employee is required to maintain their own e-mail records, will there be sanctions against the employee that fails to maintain their records properly, and if so, to what extent? 
There aren't sanctions in place if an employee fails to maintain their records properly, but the Records Officer may be asked why they didn't provide assistance in doing this and the employee's supervisor may be asked to explain why the employee didn't follow the policy protocol. If employees are prematurely deleting records/emails then this practice prevents fulfilling the legal requirements of FOAA.

If the same information is kept on electronic records and paper, do both mediums have to be archived?
If paper and electronic make up the records together, then yes, they both need to be kept under Record X schedule, but if the paper is a "copy" of the electronic version then it does not need to be "archived" - it is duplicate information and what we are trying to get agencies to move away from - saving an electronic version in their agency and sending paper copies of the same material to the Records Center. 

Should e-mails that go back and forth between sections dealing with routine daily operations be archived? 
The only records that should be archived are those that are made or received in connection with the transaction of official government business; and maintained as evidence of the agency's functions, policies, decision, procedures, operations and other activities; or because of informational value.

What about draft documents that undergo several revisions?

  • Draft documents or working papers that: are circulated via e-mail; propose or evaluate high-level policies or decisions; and provide unique information that contributes to the understanding of major decisions of the agency - SHOULD BE PRESERVED PERMANENTLY
  • Other drafts circulated for comment, which demonstrate significant revisions in the view of the author, should be scheduled, as is the final product.
  • Uncirculated drafts may be destroyed at will by the author.

What do I do with attachments I receive with e-mail?
File them with other electronic documents on your PC or network and apply the appropriate retention schedule.  Your PC files should be organized similar to your e-mail.  Attachments can then be filed in the PC folder that corresponds with the e-mail folder.

What about multiple copies of the same document?
If another agency has responsibility for keeping a record copy, and if you have no business need to retain it, the document is simply a duplicate and subject to deletion/destruction at will.

Is everything on my computer a public record?
Whether or not it is an official record, anything that is stored on a State of Maine computer is a public record legally speaking unless a privacy statute protects all or part of it from disclosure.

Is it okay to just save the last email in a string or print out emails and save them in paper format?
Although it may seem adequate for the retention of the record to delete email messages after the content has been saved in another program or has been printed for paper filing, when a FOAA search or legal discovery proceeding includes review of a state employee's e-mails, missing messages can create two problems.  First, it is apparent to the person performing the review that certain messages are no longer there. This can be confusing to the reviewer, and it may be viewed by the requestor as an attempt by the State of Maine to conceal records instead of releasing them. Second, every e-mail message has metadata attached. This "data about data" is invisible to the e-mail user, but it is often exactly what most interests a FOAA or legal discovery requestor. So destroying it by deleting the original message, even after saving the text to another format (paper included), can be treated by the courts as a deliberate act of bad faith.  Deleting the individual messages in "threads" creates the same problems as saving them in other formats. A FOAA requestor may not get the information actually sought, and a court may rule that the State of Maine's response to a discovery proceeding is deliberately inadequate because original messages cannot be produced with all their metadata attached.

Is it better to just keep all my email messages?
There are several reasons why keeping all e-mails indefinitely is not a proper management solution.  First, storage of digital records is not free and can get unnecessarily expensive if records are not managed efficiently and effectively. Second, the more messages stored, the longer and more complicated a task search and retrieval becomes.  Third, records kept beyond their retention date are a liability for the organization retaining them. What is there must be searched for and produced if requested; and costs of doing this otherwise needless work can be enormous.