Email System Features and Records Management

Over the past few weeks, there have been several articles written describing upcoming changes Google is in the process of rolling out to their email service. One of these features, “confidential mode,” allows senders to select how long the recipient will be able to read and access the messages, disables forwarding or copying/pasting, and sets the time for when the message is deleted. We have been receiving questions about the records management implications of these features.

First, regardless of what platform an agency selects for their email, each agency is responsible for ensuring compliance with all records management guidance in federal law and NARA regulations. This includes implementing and following the retention periods required by the applicable NARA-approved records retention schedules. Any decision on authorizing specific features or functionality of an email platform will be made by each agency. However, these decisions must also comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Agencies should carefully evaluate new features and technologies before enabling them for use.

Over the years, we have consistently issued guidance to agencies stressing their responsibilities to ensure the proper management of email records including NARA Bulletin 2014-06, Guidance on Managing Email and NARA Bulletin 2013-03, Guidance for agency employees on the management of Federal records, including email accounts, and the protection of Federal records from unauthorized removal. We have issued Success Criteria for agencies to assess where they are in managing email in compliance with the Managing Government Records Directive (OMB M-12-18).

At this moment, it is unclear when, or even if, the “confidential mode” feature of Google email will be available on Federal email systems. However, the above requirements for managing and preserving electronic messages would still apply and we would expect Federal agencies to comply.

We will continue to follow emerging technical developments and will issue clarifications and guidance as needed. Please let us know if you have any additional questions by leaving a comment.

About Arian Ravanbakhsh

Supervisory Records Management Policy Analyst in the Office of the Chief Records Officer.
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