News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 1 No.3
December, 1996

Developing E-Mail Policy for Government Agencies

As e-mail becomes an increasingly utilized tool in conducting government business, the Department of Archives and History's Government Records Division is receiving more questions from public officials about how to handle their e-mail. Among the most common questions are: Are e-mail messages public records? If so, how should these records be managed and/or preserved? How should public access to e-mail records be provided? It is vital that government officials now begin to develop policies and procedures to ensure that records created, sent, and received on e-mail are managed according to the established legal requirements for creating, maintaining, and disposing of all public records. Depending on the type of e-mail system an agency has, policies and procedures will vary, but the following issues should be taken into account:

1. Appropriate Usage of E-mail Systems. Every agency should develop a written policy statement for its employees regarding appropriate usage of e-mail. An e-mail system is provided, at the agency's expense, to assist employees in carrying out government business. It should be used only to transmit business related information.

2. E-mail as a Public Record. Guidance should be furnished to employees as to when e-mail is a public record. As defined in the Code of Alabama 1975, Section 36-12-2, e-mail is a public record when it is created by a government employee in the course of conducting public business, and when it documents the activities and business of public officials. The federal courts have acknowledged that e-mail qualifies as a public record in Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President. Various types of e-mail may be public records, including messages, calendars, and attachments.

3. Retention of E-mail Records. E-mail that is a public record is guided by the same retention requirements as the same type of record in another format or medium. Retention periods for e-mail records will vary according to their content and function. E-mail records must be kept for the minimum retention period identified in a Records Disposition Authority or a records retention schedule approved by the State or Local Government Records Commission. Each agency should determine a policy for handling duplicate copies of e-mail messages.

4. Preservation Of E-mail Records. Agencies have the responsibility for developing guidelines to incorporate e-mail into their record keeping systems. They must also develop policies and systems designs to ensure that e-mail records are preserved, and are readily accessible, throughout their established retention periods. If e-mail records are to be preserved electronically, they should not be stored in the e-mail system itself (unless record keeping functionality is built into it), but should be moved to a seperate electronic record keeping system. In some cases, the best preservation solution may be to print these e-mail messages onto paper. However, in Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President, the court ruled that a paper printout of an e-mail message, lacking accompanying transmission and reception data to provide its context, does not constitute a record.

5. Accessibility of E-mail Records. E-mail records are subject to the same accessibility requirements as the agency's other public records. Therefore, requests from the public for e-mail records must be honored in the same manner as for other records. E-mail records must remain accessible during their entire retention period, and should be maintained in a manner which permits easy and timely retrieval. Developing a standardized system of naming and filing, and planning for indexing and retrieval points, will assist an agency in maintaining the accessibility of e-mail throughout its required retention period.

6. E-mail Security. Agencies should develop procedures to provide for the security of e-mail, so that it cannot be altered or deleted either intentionally or unintentionally. E-mail records stored online should be backed up regularly to protect them from system failures, unintentional deletions, or tampering. Note, however, that this back-up does not constitute a record keeping system for e-mail. Back-up procedures should be coordinated among departments to ensure that no copies of e-mail records are maintained after their retention period expires.

7. E-mail Confidentiality. Essentially, confidentiality of e-mail does not exist. E-mail should always be used with the assumption that a message will be read by someone other than its intended recipient. Because agency management has the right to read any material created on a government e-mail system, employees should be warned of this fact in case personnel actions result from such readings.

8. Employee Training. Agencies should provide training to their employees on agency e-mail procedures, including how to identify e-mail records and properly handle their own e-mail. E-mail training should be a component of a comprehensive training program on general agency record keeping procedures.

This discussion covers only the most basic issues involved in a very complex subject. In preparing e-mail policies and procedures, agencies should consult their legal counsel. For related information, see the ADAH publication "Legal Admissibility of Public Records." Additional guidance may be obtained by calling the Government Records Division at (334) 242-4452.

New ADAH Publications

The Government Records Division has recently completed several new procedural leaflets which are now available to state and local agencies. Two leaflets announced in the last issue as completed, "Developing an Effective Records Management Program" and "Developing an Agency Records Disposition Authority," are in fact undergoing final revision. The latter is available to agencies in draft form. Copies of ADAH publications may be obtained by calling (334) 242-4452. They may also be accessed through the ADAH web site at

Deborah Skaggs Leaves ADAH

Deborah Skaggs, who had directed the ADAH Government Records Division since 1986, left in November to accept a position as records officer for the Frank Russell Company in Tacoma, Washington. Her work with the division during the past ten years, and her assistance to the State and Local Government Records Commissions, have profoundly improved the management and preservation of Alabama's public records. We are grateful for Deborah's many contributions to the department and the state, and we wish her well in her new job. Tracey Berezansky, also an ADAH staff member since 1986, has taken over as the Government Records Divisions interim director.

Records Disposition Authorities and Schedules Approved by the Commissions

At its meeting on October 23, the State Records Commission approved Records Disposition Authorities for the ALABAMA SECURITIES COMMISSION and the BOARD OF DENTAL EXAMINERS OF ALABAMA. The following new or revised records schedules were also approved:

COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENTS: Important Information Statements and Release Forms (1 schedule).

JEFFERSON COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Laboratory Personnel Performance Records; Laboratory Quality Control Records (2 schedules).

DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: County Health Department Audit Files; Sexually Transmitted Disease Patient Interview Records (2 schedules).

DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE: Abstract of Motor Vehicle License Plates, Applications for Apportioned Registration Under International Registration Plan, Applications for Consular License Plates, Billings of Colleges/Universities for License Plate Manufacturing Costs, Certificate of Motor Vehicle Title Files, International Registration Cab Cards, International Registration Plan--Registration Computer Printouts, Motor Vehicle Apportioned License Applications Audit Files, Paid and Settled Assessment Files, Request for Motor Vehicle Registration Records (Form MV-99), Temporary License Tags and Registration Certificates, and Unpaid Assessment Files

SECRETARY OF STATE: Petitions for Inclusion of Candidates on Ballots of Elections (1 schedule).

At its meeting on October 23, 1996, the Local Government Records Commission approved the following new or revised schedules:

JUDGE OF PROBATE: Notices of Appointment of Road Apportioners and Overseers (1 schedule)

LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT: Radio/Telephone Audio Tapes, Fingerprint Cards, Mug Shots, Election Officers' Certificates (4 schedules)

MUNICIPALITIES: Claims for Damages, Commercial Building Plans, Residential Building Plans, Building Permits and Inspection Files (4 schedules)

For copies of any of these Records Disposition Authorities or schedules, contact the ADAH Government Records Division at (334) 242-4452.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be on Thursday, January 23, 1997, in the Milo B. Howard Auditorium of the Alabama Department Of Archives and History, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery. Starting times are at 10:00 a.m. (state) and 1:30 p.m. (local).

"Government Records News" is published by the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Box 300100, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100. The newsletter, and other publications are also available on-line through the ADAH web site:

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Revised: 3/25/97