Email records include fields of information such as the sender, recipient, date, and subject that may be considered to be a form of metadata. However, since these fields can be populated in multiple ways, they may not provide sufficient information to make email records retrievable and useable for as long as they are needed. Agencies should refer to NARA Bulletin 2015-04: Metadata Guidance for the Transfer of Permanent Electronic Records for the minimum required metadata for all permanent Federal electronic records. The required metadata must be provided as an external index in a pipe-delimited CSV file.
NARA’s regulations in 36 CFR 1236.22 require agencies preserve core components of email messages including the addresses of the sender and all recipients, the date the message was sent, and any attachments so that the content, context and structure of the records are maintained. Although these elements are included as a part of message content, email systems may be configured in a manner that substitutes a proper name or a nickname from an address book in place of the qualified email address used to send or receive the message. It is also possible for an email to be sent from an address associated with several people, such as a group or a team, or sent by one person on behalf of another.
To ensure sufficient information is captured and included in transfers of email to NARA, agencies should consider the following:
- Email messages should comply with the specifications outlined in Request for Comments (RFC) 5322, Internet Message Format. This is the successor to RFC 2822, which is currently referenced in NARA’s transfer guidance.
- The email must include–at a minimum–subject, message body, address of sender and all addressees (including blind copy recipients), and the time and date the message was sent or received.
- When exporting email messages from their native system, messages must include labels to identify each part of the message (Date, To [all recipients, including cc: and bc: copies], From, Subject, Body, and Attachment) including transmission and receipt information (Time Sent, Time Opened, Message Size, File Name, and similar information, if available).
- If the email message does not contain the proper name of the sender or recipient of an email message in the header, the agency must maintain records that allow for the association of nicknames or email addresses with the agency employee or official responsible for the account.
- The preferred formats for aggregations of permanent email records transferred to NARA are PST and MBOX (see NARA 2014-04, Appendix A).
Updated to clarify RFC 5322 on July 26, 2017.