The key to effectively managing email and electronic messages is to be proactive.
Electronic messages, such as email, texts and instant messages, are a convenient way to convey information, similar to sending paper mail through the postal service. If an electronic message documents university business, it must be managed as a university record. Not all records are equal in value or retention period. The retention period for each message is based upon the content and informational value of the message, not the technology through which it is transmitted or stored.
Keep in mind that email and other electronic messages are comprised not just of the textual message and attachments, but also metadata (e.g., to, from, subject, time, date, system) about the message and its transmission.
The key to effectively managing email and electronic messages is to be proactive. Delete the non-records and transient records that have outlived their administrative value so that what remains are the records, sent or received, that retention schedules require to be managed. Managing email and electronic messages should be approached in a manner similar to the way that paper mail is processed and starts with reviewing the message’s content.
Most emails are simply electronically stored information (ESI) without a lasting legal, operational or historical value, and are therefore not records. Only emails that serve a legal, operational or historical value are records; the rest should be deleted. There is no set retention period for email because it is simply a medium upon which information is stored. Retention periods are best tied to the information or content in a record, not the medium on which it is stored.
SUNY’s email retention approach is to classify emails that are records by determining the subject matter and purpose of the email. The content of the email will determine the classification of records the email falls under, and retention of the email is in accordance with the retention schedules based on the type of record.
Emails that are not records, and are just ESI with no legal, operational or historical value, convert to a record when the following “trigger” scenarios occur:
These events will convert existing email that previously served no legal, operational or historical value into a record, which triggers the legal obligation to preserve. Only ESI that exists at moment of a trigger can convert to a record. This is why it is important to delete emails that do not constitute a record.
Determine if the electronic message (e.g., email, voice mail, text) is a record and should be retained per the records retention schedules.