Local Politics

State E-Mail Policy Heads to Panel

Posted April 18, 2008

— A panel reviewing policies concerning state employees and their e-mail planned to meet Friday.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley appointed the panel after a fired employee claimed Easley's administration had an unofficial policy of deleting e-mail communications daily.

In a meeting earlier this month, panel members heard from media representatives who said they want every state e-mail saved. That debate has moved from the meeting room to the courtroom.

State Auditor Leslie Merritt said in a letter that the e-mail Records Review Panel should take the Office of the State Auditor’s mission into consideration while reviewing the state’s e-mail retention policies.

“For the Office of the State Auditor, e-mails serve as information in the audit trail,” Merritt said. “They tend to confirm the occurrence of actual events and provide a unique window into the operation of state government.”

Whether state business or spam, employees decide what e-mails to delete from their computers.

Leaders of media organizations in North Carolina say every e-mail should be saved because the messages could be important public records in the future.

“Any policy that allows destruction of e-mail is in blatant violation of our state’s Open Records Law,” said Rick Thames, editor of The Charlotte Observer, one of the media outlets that have sued Easley to get a court order to save e-mail. The News & Observer and The Associated Press are also plaintiffs in the case.

That's the case being made to the panel Easley convened to reviewing the state's e-mail retention policies. Accusations that state workers were told to delete e-mails from the governor's office were the spark for the controversy.

The executive branch receives nearly 900,000 e-mails every day. Easley and others have argued that keeping all of them would take up too much disk space and cost too much money.

“Cost and inconvenience cannot be a factor. A public record must be preserved. Period,” Thames said.

One newspaper editor estimated that e-mail archive system for the state could cost from $120,000 to $3 million.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Andrew from NC Apr 18, 2008

    The best solution would be to do away with email in government altogether. I know it would be more work to have to communicate using paper, but it is much easier to keep a record of paper documents. But since they will more than likely continue using email, they should archive EVERY SINGLE email they get. I don't care how much data space it takes up. They should not have the option to delete spam because then they will "accidentally" delete the only records of a sex scandal or some other corrupt thing that they will be trying to cover up. If they’re strapped for cash to fund this new archival system then they can just take it from the education department, the “arts” department, or any other department that’s got too much money to begin with.

  • A confused citizen Apr 18, 2008

    The long and short of this entire situation is that the current method of email retention in North Carolina is unworkable. It puts to much burden on the end user, the state employee sitting in his / her office, to determine what should be retained and what should be deleted. There are many other industries that face the same, if not more, volume of email than the state government does, i.e. investment firms regulated by the SEC.

    How do these organizations comply with the stringent email retention rules imposed by the SEC and the Federal government? They use commercial software that takes the burden off of the end user by using a pre-determined set of rules based upon current regulations. The market has seen a demand and filled this void. One program that comes to mind is “Assentor”. The state, if serious, about complying with the letter of the law on email retention would at least entertain using software and relieving the state employees of vetting hundreds of emails.

  • mike275132 Apr 18, 2008

    More corruption from Gov. Easly and the Gang.

  • xxxxxxxxxxxxx Apr 18, 2008

    Do the rest of you get the "phone system is on the fritz", "brownies in the break room", "the staff meeting has been postponed until 4:00", and the daily Public Relations announcements which may or may not apply to you e-mails? Well, we state employees get plenty of such e-mails every day. Do these constitute public record to be saved for all posterity? If one e-mail goes out from Public Relations to 300 people, should all 300 copies be archived? Let's not be ridiculous.

  • The Fox Apr 18, 2008

    Will the fired employee get whistle blower status?

  • Cragsdale Apr 18, 2008

    I agree with you A Confused Citizen. But the state as a whole has moved forward in great strides over the last decade. We have a long way to go to catch up I do agree, but at the very least they are making some forward progress in Raleigh. Some good, some not so good if you ask me lol.

  • A confused citizen Apr 18, 2008

    On interesting angle that none of these recent articles mention is whether or not the current state policy of e-mail retention and destruction comply with the Federal Rules of E-discovery. I am not a lawyer, but it would seem that if one could sue an “arm of the state”, then Rule 26, of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would apply.

    If that is the case it would seem that not only does the e-mail retention policy in the Governor’s office need to be revised but also that of all state government agencies, boards and commissions.

    North Carolina often portrays as a technology hub in the southeast but it is embarrassing how little the state embraces technology compared to other states.

  • Cragsdale Apr 18, 2008

    Also by your open lambasting of our Governor and the Political situation within this great state, in my opinion you have less credibility to be counter arguing any points made by someone else. Your opinion of teh status of politics in North Carolina is yours and you are more than welcome to share it, but a more sensible stand of debating or argumentative reproach against someone else when you have no first hand experience with a situation is neither warrented nor welcomed.

  • Cragsdale Apr 18, 2008

    I'm not speaking of spam. I'm stating the need to keep historical facts, documents of reasonable ideas, things that would actually be worth keeping, and not keeping the email you sent to your buddy down the hall asking what time you want to get together for a drink after work. There's a huge difference. And spam is filtered, but not invited spam. I get emails from Fanball.com all the time, it's considered spam, but I still get them because I asked for the emails. that informative email from Tigerdirect.com, or onestepahead, or wherever else that's been invited are al considered spam, but thousands of them seep into Email systems in businesses every day. So don't point a misleading finger at me because your friend is in IT, if you aren't then perhaps you should have asked on what foundation I base my OPINIONs.

  • blisstate Apr 18, 2008

    Cragsale - you mislead with the voice of authority. My friend is an employee with the State in IT, he tells me they already save email (even deleted ones) so storage is not a problem. The question is for how long. Archival cost on mag tape is about 1 cent per 30 megabytes /1000. SPAM is already filtered out and is not saved on the sever and is not part of the equation.