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E-mail retention policy - ethical dilemma

By angry_white_male ·
My company presently does not have a policy regarding the retention of e-mail. With only 75-100 mailboxes on our Exchange server, reasonable mailbox size limits in place and plenty of HD space - we really never gave it much consideration. We do have a practice of running AutoArchive in Outlook to keep the power users from amassing monster-size mailboxes to keep the load on the server down, and to keep the "mailbox is full" warnings from populating their mailboxes - and the archive files are saved on the file server. Everything gets back up to tape every night and archived monthly. So far so good.

This is where things get dicey. It was just handed down to the IT dept from the top of the mountain that we must delete _everything_ off the Exchange server and keep only those e-mails which are less than 30 days old - and to make this an ongoing policy. This also includes destroying 4 years worth of archived backup tape that we have secured in our records room. Red flags are waving and alarms are ringing. From an IT perspective, we have enough disk space on our Exchange box for at least another 20 years of e-mail - and the hardware we run it on barely breaks a sweat. My boss told me to make this happen starting next week. He's just as perplexed about it as I am, but said we need to follow orders.

The twist is that we're a government agency that falls under a number of state and federal regulations, requirements and obligations. For all intents and purposes, e-mails are business documents. From an operational standpoint, most of my users rely heavily on e-mail and often need to go back several months or longer to retrieve information regarding any particular project they're working on.

Now, I'm sure by doing this, I'm probably not breaking any laws - however, there are guidelines and requirements in place by the state/federal government that pertain to record retention, in addition to the legal implications of destoying records -- especially if they can save your company in the event of a sizeable lawsuit. But what if all those records are subpoenaed in court and we can't produce them because they were destroyed? If we're in compliance in what we're supposed to do, then we shouldn't have to worry about any damaging documents floating around our mail server - so no need to destroy them.

I'm sure you remember the Ollie North Iran-Contra scandal with the all of the document shredding, and the hot water he got in for obstructing justice. Do I really want to be implicated in this when I have mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay? Do I want my name and reputation tarnished - even though I was following orders?

But if you were put in this situation, what would you do? The IT job market has yet to recover from it's heyday (and likely never will).

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Government document laws

by BFilmFan In reply to E-mail retention policy - ...

You are required and compelled under the National Archives and Records Administration Act of 1984 (Pub. L. 98 - 497, 44 U.S.C. 101 note) to preserve certain documents, including email.

You can verify most of your requirements here:

Personally and in writing, I would immediately contact my superior asking how they planned to meet compliance with the Federal law. If they should tell you to "jus get with the program," immediately call the Justice Department and use the Whistleblower's law. You might also wish to contact the National Archives, your senators and congreeman and those fun party gang at the General Accounting Office.

It never ceases to suprise me how mnay Federal agency department heads look really good in prison atttire. Don't be one of them.

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Following orders doesn't clear you

by jdclyde In reply to Government document laws

So cover your a$$!

BFilmFan is right on track with this.

It is a poor business practice in a PRIVATE business, and almost certanly illegal in an governmental institution. Freedom of information and all.

Looks real bad.

Make sure your not breaking any laws, and then get it in writting for when the brass ask why they can't get that e-mail back from 32 days ago that he NEEDS.

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If it goes wrong, you'll be the scapegoat

by pedwards17 In reply to Following orders doesn't ...

I agree with jdclyde--following orders won't absolve you of responsibility. If you follow these orders and there is an investigation in the future, you'll be the one who will take the fall. As others have suggested, get the request in writing (not in email unless you're going to print it--it'll be gone in 31 days otherwise;-) ), ask how the regulations are to be met, and then contact the necessary authorities.

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Tough one!!!

by caestelle In reply to Government document laws

I do not know what I would do in your shoes, but I am sure glad I am not there. Are they giving any motive as to why they might be wanting to destroy these emails. If not, maybe their motives are maybe their thinking is that they do not want confidential emails floating around out there and they just don't realize that by deleting them, they will be breaking some laws. If this is the case, then maybe pointing out these laws that BFilmFan is referring to deter them. BFilmFan said, I would express your concerns to your supervisor in a manner that you can keep for your personal protection should you need it. Good luck in whatever you decide!!

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by angry_white_male In reply to Tough one!!!

No idea what's motivating them to do this. I just hope it's because the HMFIC here fell and hit his head and isn't thinking straight. In any event - I did some research and called a lawyer friend of mine and while I may be clear from a legal/civil/criminal perspective when I dump the info store and trash the tapes, it won't look good for the company - and it may very well bite us down the road. My boss is pushing this back onto the HMFIC and advising him of the pitfalls, so we'll see what happens.

Apparently they want this done within the next couple of weeks - seems like a hasty decision, so it tells me that something's up.

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Listen to BfilmFan

by amcol In reply to

Because he's exactly, precisely, absolutely, positively, 100% correct.

I also work for the government. I know the laws and regs in this area, from NARA to OMB to FOIA to FISMA. Do what BFilmFan is telling you to do. And document every move you make, every conversation you have, everything that happens from here on out.

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In the clear, you say?

by No name specified In reply to

Just remember this: the phrase "I was just following orders" does NOT make you innocent, and you can bet that there will be someone out there itching (or getting paid a lot) to prove that you aren't. Another something to remember is that you are NOT innocent simply because you "did not know it was illegal", and bottom line is that the lowest person on the totem pole always pays the price. Don't believe it? Ask the seven soldiers from Abu Grahib. You pushed the button = you pulled the trigger = "nobody told them to abuse the prisoners".

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Might be time for a private copy

by raclapp In reply to

Might be time to make copys of the archive tapes and put them into the hands of an attorney. If something is up, you can be the hero by producing the destroyed info. If nothing comes about, then simply ask the attorney to see they are destroyed. Might give you some protection, in case the idiot upstairs does not wise up.

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by Meesha In reply to Might be time for a priva ...

Although I agree with pretty well all the responses so far, this one by raclapp has me worried. Since the motives aren't known, taking any corporate data et al may constitute theft and if "anything comes back to bite" the firm may see this as a cause for action. If the emails are addressed to you directly, I don't believe there would be a problem printing or coping for safe guarding. But not all corporate emails especially those not addressed to or by you. I admit, I may be wrong but I would rather document my concerns, point out the legal ramifications and keep covering my back side until a reasonable "legal" explanation is received. Like others in this post, the law is clear and unless the corporation has leave of the law then I would ensure that I cover all the bases. Don't do it! If they want it done and after you've explicitly outlined why you won't do it, leave them to it.

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Their Motivation is Not that Mysterious

by SendBux In reply to

Anybody in Govt who makes an order like that, who's fairly elevated, knows it's illegal to destroy docs, including emails.

The boss is doing this because he believes he is protecting himself or someone or something by doing it, pure and simple. It is up to you to discover what that is, if you choose to accept the assignment.

This e-mail will now self-destruct.

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