Email messages are State records July 24, 2017

In light of recent media coverage of possible inappropriate deletion of Ministerial emails in Queensland, we would like to remind NSW public offices that email messages sent and received in the course of official business are State records under the State Records Act 1998 (the Act). This includes messages sent and received by Ministers in the course of their official duties. It also includes messages relating to any aspect of official (government) business coming from private email accounts.

The Act defines a record as ‘any document or other source of information compiled, recorded or stored in written form or on film, or by electronic process, or in any other manner or by any other means’ (s.3).

The Act goes on to define a State record as ‘any record made and kept, or received and kept, by any person in the course of the exercise of official functions in a public office, or for any purpose of a public office, or for the use of a public office’ (s.3).

The definition of a public office includes Ministers (s.3).

The Act purposely uses a broad definition for what constitutes a record. This ensures that different formats that come into use as a result of new technologies are governed by the Act.

NSW public offices, including Ministers, should have policies and procedures in place to ensure that the records they create and receive, in whatever format, are managed appropriately. State Archives and Records NSW has published some advice on strategies for managing email.

How long do I need to keep email messages for?

Public offices often ask us how long email messages should be kept for. The answer is, it depends! (Don’t you just love that answer?!)

There is no blanket retention period for email messages. Like all records, their retention period will be determined by the business activities and transactions they document rather than their format.

Email messages need to be managed as business records when they are part of a business process. It is the nature of the business or activity that they relate to that would determine how they are managed and how long they are retained.

There are of course many email messages that do not need to be retained for long, such as simple communications about office events, non-business or personal messages, spam etc.

For further advice about managing email, please contact State Archives and Records NSW.

photo by: gajman
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