NARA to Adapt Record Retention Policies to Better Address the Widespread Use of Mobile Communications

October 13, 2022 / #Open Government, #FOIA

This blog was originally posted to the TeleMessage website. TeleMessage’s Mobile Message Archiver is brought to you in FOIAXpress thanks to OPEXUS’ partnership with IP DataSolutions.

The US Government National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is expanding upon a 2013 Guidance on a New Approach to Managing Email Records to now include text, chats, and instant messages. In recognition of the increased role of electronic messages in servicing communication both within bureaucracies and in contacts with the public, the use of a Role-Based Approach (Capstone) has been extended to them. This recognition results from government agencies at all levels opening up communication channels to contemporary IM and social network platforms and internalizing the archiving requirements associated with them.

The 2013 Guidance introduced the concept of role-based scheduling for the management of email and offered agencies an alternative method of managing their email records. Under a role-based approach, final disposition is determined by the role or position of the record creator or receiver. Specifically, records of certain roles or positions may be scheduled as permanent for transfer to the National Archives. These are usually at the top of an organization. The records of all other roles and positions may be scheduled for disposal as temporary records. Thus in the current context expansion, electronic messages of high-level roles and positions could be scheduled as permanent and electronic messages of all others could be scheduled as temporary.

In recognizing that electronic messages—including texts, chats, and instant messages—created or received in the course of agency business are likely federal records, they must have a NARA-approved largely role-based disposition authority. In this manner, existing treatment of email correspondence can be extended to WhatsApp and other IMs popular with federal agencies. The advantages of this role-based approach for electronic messages include:

  • Allowing agencies to manage both email and all other electronic messages in a unified, consistent way;
  • Allows use of a more simplified and automated approach to managing electronic messages, as opposed to policies that require staff to apply disposition to each message based on message content;
  • Depending on the agency’s technology, may offer more options for automated disposition policies; and
  • Allows for the capture of electronic messages that should be preserved as permanent from the accounts of officials at or near the top of an agency or an organizational subcomponent.

While this approach has significant benefits, there are also risks that the agency must consider, including choosing the appropriate permanent positions, the possible need to meet other records management responsibilities, and the likelihood of incidentally collecting personal and other non-record messages as permanent.

Although a role-based approach can reduce the burden on individuals by facilitating a greater use of automated methods for managing electronic messages, agencies still remain responsible for managing all records in accordance with NARA regulations and requirements. When implementing a role-based approach for capturing and managing electronic messages, agencies must continue to:

  • Ensure all electronic messages are scheduled and for role-based managers, in addition to instant message archiving and instant message recording.
  • Prevent the unauthorized access, modification, or deletion of declared records, including avoiding the use of auto-deletion that may contradict approved disposition authorities. Agencies must ensure that records repositories have appropriate security measures in place to prevent unauthorized destruction of records. Records must retain authenticity, reliability, and trustworthiness throughout capture, maintenance, and transfer.
  • Ensure all records are retrievable and usable. Records must be accessible to appropriate staff for as long as needed to conduct agency business. Agencies should also consider retrievability and usability, especially when migrating from one repository to another.
  • Capture, maintain, and preserve required metadata. As outlined in NARA Bulletin 2015-04, Metadata Guidance for the Transfer of Permanent Electronic Records, an agency is responsible for ensuring that the required metadata is preserved. The agency may wish to capture and maintain additional metadata for legal and business purposes.
  • Ensure permanent records are transferred to NARA in a timely manner, and in accordance with current NARA transfer and accessioning guidance. Agencies are legally responsible for ensuring permanent records are transferred to NARA in accordance with the approved schedule. Transfers of permanent electronic messages must be unencrypted and accompanied by the proper documentation in compliance with current NARA accessioning guidance for public records archiving.
  • Ensure temporary records are disposed of in a timely manner, in accordance with approved disposition authorities.

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