We are looking to determine if there is a specific time frame for which email must be held. Can we designate in a policy that email will not be considered original documents - that all original documents must be in print format? AND if this is possible, how long then are we required to hold onto archived e-mail?
Please also comment on how, for state institutions, this issue is impacted by the NYS Archives Schedule MI-1 Schedule, which states:
“Generally, records transmitted through e-mail systems have the same retention periods as records in other formats that are related to the same program function or activity. E-mail records should be scheduled for disposition in conjunction with any other records related to the program function. Local governments may delete, purge, or destroy e-mail records provided that the records have been retained for the minimum retention established in this Schedule and are not being used for a legal action or audit.”
WNYLRC ATTORNEY’S RESPONSE
This has been a tough question to mull over! That is because the answer is superficially “yes,” but in reality: “no.”
How do we get to this disjointed conclusion? Schedule MI-1, as the member did, is a great place to start.
From there, although it is a bit older (in Internet years), the 2010 guidance from the New York State Archives, “Developing a Policy for Managing E-mail” (to which the Schedule MI-1 refers), speaks to this issue. On page 7, it states:
“Another management strategy has been to rely on the “lowtech” method of printing out important emails to integrate them into a paper recordkeeping system. Printing emails is still a viable option for a small organization with limited technology support and finances, provided that individuals across the organization consistently apply records retention requirements to the printed emails, capture all essential metadata, and file the emails with their respective attachments.” [emphasis added]
This would suggest that, for certain institutions, under certain circumstances, e-mail does not need to be retained in its original form to be an “original document.”
However, while it would be elegant, I cannot endorse this approach. As the guidance further states on page 13:
“The concept of “official copy” is problematic when dealing with email because of the volume of emails, the difficulty of controlling all copies, and the occasional need to prove an email was received as well as sent.” [emphasis added]
Since 2010, even more concerns make this a dubious solution. For a private institution, the requirements of accreditors, insurance carriers, and other stakeholders must be considered…while for libraries and archives that are part of local governments, per NYS regulation, the conversion of archival electronic records must be conducted in consultation with the State Archives, who may or may not endorse such a policy, based on the categories of documentation it would impact.
That said, for certain categories of documentation transmitted or received as e-mail (as defined by MI-1 or private policy), the “print approach” may work. As a wholesale solution, however, it is not legally viable.