Records Management - Managing E-mail as a Record

‘...[G]ive me six lines written by the most honest man, [and] I will find something in them to hang him’.

Richelieu, Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal de (1585 - 1642)

1. What is e-mail?
2. Why should we manage e-mail?
3. Is an e-mail message a record?
4. Who owns e-mail records?
5. How do I manage e-mail messages as records?
6. What e-mail messages should I retain?
7. Is the University's e-mail system a record keeping system?
8. What do I do with duplicate messages?
9. Where does responsibility lie for the management of e-mail?
10. What help is available?
11. Future tense - Guidance Chart
12. Printing to Paper - Decision Chart
1. What is e-mail?

1.1. E-mail allows users to create and send messages to other users, in electronic form (sometimes with attachments), over a network.

1.2. The recipient of an e-mail receives a message when they open their e-mail account. The message can then be read along with any attachment that may accompany it. The content of an e-mail can vary from a short message to a more complex message with several attachments.

1.3. If undeleted the original message and the sent message reside INDEPENDENTLY on whatever electronic messaging system the e-mail message was sent by and whatever electronic messaging system the e-mail message was received by.

2. Why do we need to manage e-mail?

2.1. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 requires the University to respond to all requests for information from anyone in the world in respect of any recorded information that it holds and in any form; this clearly includes e-mail.

2.2. It is the case that we do not always have to provide the information that is requested, but it is generally the case that we will have to say whether or not we hold it - and to provide a response to the request within 20 working days of it being received. This legal requirement cannot be met unless the University knows what information it holds and where it is.

2.3. The University also needs the ability to quickly identify information that is subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

2.4. In many businesses the use of e-mail has either superseded, or exists alongside, paper based systems and within such organizations e-mail now documents the business activities and transactions. The general transition has resulted in e-mail records becoming legally admissible and which in consequence, need to be managed like any other record.

3. Is an e-mail message a record?

3.1. A Record is recorded information in any form that is created or received by the University in the transaction of its business or conduct of its affairs and which it retains as evidence of such activity - put more simply, a record is 'recorded evidence of business activity'.

3.2. Clearly some of the messages you send and receive will be sent and received in the transaction of University business and in consequence, some e-mail messages that you create will undoubtedly be records.

4. Who owns e-mail messages when they are records?

4.1. All records, including e-mails, created or received by staff in the course of their employment, are the property of the University and subject to its control - in this context, there can be no such thing as a personal record. In short, University Records belong to the University.

4.2. For guidance in respect of personal e-mails you need to read the University's Statement on Internet use

5. How do I manage e-mail messages as records?

5.1. You manage e-mail records in the same way you would any other type of record. That is, you need to:

      • arrange and index them;
      • store them;
      • file them so that they can be retrieved;
      • retain them for the duration of the purposes for which they are needed and;
      • destroy them

5.2. It is the case however that the University does not have an integrated electronic records management system capable of managing e-mail messages as electronic records. This means that all important e-mail messages need to be brought into the paper domain and filed accordingly with the business to which they relate. This is unsatisfactory but, at present, is the only available way to bring the message into a recordkeeping system where the message's content can be properly preserved and whereby a good deal of its business context (1.4) effectively captured.

5.3. For the requirement of 5.2 to change, the situation on the ground would need to be one of an integrated electronic records management environment.

5.4. Figure 1 is provided solely for illustrative purposes and shows the broad steps needed to meet the electronic records management requirement for the management of e-mail and other electronic records.

Figure 1.

Derived from Ginn M.L., Guidelines for managing e-mail, ARMA International, 2000. ISBN 0-933887-91-4 and also utilised in the JISC Generic Policy for E-mail Retention and Disposition

6. What e-mail messages should I retain?

6.1. The value of an e-mail record is determined by the informational content of the message, not the medium on which it resides.

6.2. At a business level, decisions on which records to retain and for how long, are determined by legislative, regulatory, financial and administrative requirements, as well as their historical value. The type of information you need to make that decision will be known to you if your school or section has undertaken the development of a school or sectional information map. If you have not developed an information map, now is the time to do it.

6.3. Use your mouse on Figure 2. to access further guidance.

Figure 2.

Learn more Learn more Learn more Learn more Learn more

7. Is the University's e-mail system a record keeping system?

7.1. E-mail systems are NOT record keeping systems, they are one-to-one or one-to-many communications systems.

7.2. ISS have responsibility for managing the University's e-mailing system and back-up the system at regular intervals. Personal space is provided to individuals and ISS encourage staff to clear out personal mailboxes when the allocated space is being exceeded. Retention is driven solely by the demands of space or volume and therefore not in accordance with the requirements of any records management principle. One example to illustrate the point:

      • The University's e-mailing system does not provide the general user with any facility to register an e-mail message within the system as a corporate record.
8. What do I do with duplicate messages?

8.1. You should destroy them. Remember a copy of a record is no less a record than the one that you've filed, it's simply a record that hasn't been filed.

8.2. It is bad practice to maintain a copy record if it is not needed, particularly so if the record happens to contain personal data or commercially sensitive information.

8.3. All e-mail messages that have not been filed into the paper domain should be destroyed 6 months after they have been created or received, if not earlier.

9. Where does responsibility lie for the management of e-mail records?

9.1. You have the same responsibilities for managing e-mail records as you have for managing University records held on any other media - there is no difference.

10. What help is available?

Further advice and guidance in respect of records management, data protection and freedom of information can be obtained by e-mailing or telephoning ext. 8209