Thursday, March 29, 2012

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Information Technology: Electronic Mail

Electronic mail (“e-mail”) transmits communication (i.e., electronic memoranda, messages, notices, short reports, spreadsheets, charts, and other business information) quickly between locations. This section summarizes TriMet’s e-mail policy, applicable legal requirements, and e-mail privacy. The principles outlined in HR-200: Information Technology Basic Policy apply to the use of e-mail.

Employees are permitted "reasonable personal use" of e-mail. This privilege can continue as long as the system does not become overburdened or TriMet's Information Technology policies are not violated. 
The following protocols apply to the use of TriMet’s e-mail system:
  • All employees must comply with Oregon Public Records laws and TriMet policies applicable to public records, including applicable public records retention periods.
  • Avoid practices that clog the system, such as global personal communications (e.g., wedding and birth announcements, pictures or graphics), and subscriptions to Internet list servers.
  • Total e-mail message size should not exceed twenty megabytes.
  • Chain letters are considered an abuse of the e-mail system and are not part of agency business.
Agency policies and legal requirements apply to e-mail. Examples include retention of public records and the propriety of use.  Employees should consult HR-384 TriMet Records Management Policy for applicable public records requirements.
Retention of Public Records:
Oregon law defines a public record for purposes of legal retention requirements as “information” that:
  • Is prepared, owned, used or retained by a state agency or political subdivision;
  • Relates to an activity, transaction or function of a state agency or political subdivision; and
  • Is necessary to satisfy the fiscal, legal, administrative or historical policies, requirements or needs of the state agency or political subdivision.
See ORS 192.005(5)(a).
E-mails (including attachments) that meet the above criteria are subject to state records retention laws.  Retention periods for TriMet public records are set forth in the Oregon State Archivist’s General Retention Schedule for Counties and Special Districts (“Retention Schedule”)[1]. The Retention Schedule states minimum periods of time that public records must be retained, and provides TriMet with the authority to destroy or otherwise dispose of these public records when the applicable Retention Schedule time periods have expired.  In addition, TriMet emails may need to be retained in accordance with federal laws and regulations, including requirements made applicable to TriMet by federal grant conditions. 
E-mail is a tool for communicating and is not a type of record so there is no blanket retention period prescribed for “e-mail records.”  As with paper records, the content of each e-mail message must be evaluated to determine which retention requirement applies.   An e-mail message will generally have the same retention period as records in other formats that are related to the same program or function.    For example, e-mail messages relating to the agency’s budget would be retained for the same period as a comparable paper budget related record.
As with paper records, only the “official” copy of the e-mail message needs to be retained – typically, this would include the completed e-mail chain along with any attachments.   See HR-384: Records Management Policy, Part 4 - Disposition of Records for further guidance on identifying “official” records.
E-mail Retention Methods
As of January 1, 2012, e-mail messages in the Inbox, Sent Items and Deleted Items folders will be automatically deleted one year after the date of an e-mail’s creation or receipt.  Therefore, for e-mails with a retention period that exceeds one year from the date of creation or receipt of the email, employees must either move their e-mails into an electronic storage folder or other electronic filing system for the required retention period, or retain their e-mails by printing a hard copy, before the expiration of the one-year period.
Electronic Retention
·         E-mail archiving and retention software (EARS) is installed on certain employee computers.  Employees utilizing computers with EARS must move e-mails with legal retention periods longer than one year from the date of creation or receipt of the e-mail, into the applicable pre-set retention folder created in EARS before expiration of the one-year period.  The pre-set retention folders are set at 3, 6, 10 and 15 years; E-mails stored in the EARS pre-set retention period folders will be automatically deleted upon expiration of the applicable retention period determined from the date of creation or receipt of the e-mail.  EARS users may access information and training, including how to use the pre-set retention folders, on the EARS Training Site on TriNet.
·         Employees who use a computer that does not have EARS must manually create retention folders to retain e-mails that are subject to a retention period longer than one year from the date of creation or receipt; e-mails must be moved into the retention folders before expiration of the one-year period.  The e-mail system on computers that do not have EARS cannot apply pre-set retention periods to e-mail folders that will automatically delete the contents; therefore, employees will need to manually delete their e-mails from their folders after the applicable retention period has expired.
·   In some cases, e-mails may be retained for the required retention periods by moving e-mails out of the Inbox, Sent or Deleted folders to other network file folders or another more appropriate electronic filing system established for records retention -- i.e. a software application that provides managed storage in conformance with applicable records retention requirements.
Print/Hard Copy Retention of E-Mails
·   Employees can retain e-mail messages by printing and filing their e-mails as a part of a paper filing system; or
·   Employees can utilize a combination electronic / paper filing system (messages with shorter retention periods are retained electronically and messages with longer retention periods are printed and filed). 
·    NOTE: E-mails with permanent retention requirements must be retained by printing a hard copy and retaining it in a paper filing system.
Regardless of the method of email retention, e-mail messages with records retention requirements exceeding one year from the date of creation or receipt must be moved into an appropriate record-keeping retention system before the automated clean-up system deletes them.  In addition, e-mail messages must be accessible for the duration of the applicable retention period; because electronic records are susceptible to technological obsolescence and other factors that may render them inaccessible over a relatively short period of time, employees should consult the IT Department or consider the print / paper filing system method or the combination electronic / paper filing system method for retention of e-mails with long-term retention requirements.  Do not rely on electronic back-ups; agency back-ups are not for the purpose of long-term storage See HR-384: Records Management Policy, Part 4 - Disposition of Records or contact TriMet’s Records Analyst for further guidance.
  1. Employee A sends a personal e-mail to Employee B to coordinate lunch plans.
        • Employees are permitted "reasonable personal use" of e-mail.  Personal e-mail can be defined as a personal exchange not covered by the Retention Schedule.  This type of e-mail should be limited in use and deleted after it is read. 
  1. Spam (unsolicited e-mail messages that usually contain some form of advertisement) is another type of e-mail message that is not covered by the Retention Schedule and should be deleted immediately.
  2. Employee A sends a reminder via e-mail to Employees B and C that includes the date, time and location of an upcoming staff meeting.
        • This is an example of a temporary or transitory e-mail message, which is an exchange of communication that is fulfilled almost immediately upon request. These types of e-mails should be kept until the task is complete or their value has passed. 
        • Other examples of temporary or transitory e-mail messages include meeting and deadline reminders, reading and reference materials, company-wide communications, and “FYI” e-mail information that do not elicit a response.
  1. Employee A sends an e-mail message to Employee B and attaches a draft quarterly financial report for review and comment.  The e-mail summarizes the report and requests B’s comments by a certain date. 
        • Both the e-mail and the attached report must be analyzed individually to determine whether they are subject to legal retention requirements.  Both records contain information that falls within the definition of a "public record" for retention purposes under Oregon law.  See ORS 192.005(5)(a).   Under TriMet’s Retention Schedule, the financial report must be retained for 3 years[2].  The e-mail message (summary and request for review) is substantively related to the financial report so the 3-year retention requirement would also apply to the e-mail message.  For retention of these records, both the e-mail message and the attached report should be printed or stored electronically and retained in the appropriate record-keeping system. Federal retention requirements may also apply if the e-mails relate to a federally funded grant activity.
  1. Other examples of e-mail messages that are typically public records that need to be retained include policies and directives, correspondence or memoranda related to official business, drafts of documents that are circulated for comment and approval, any document that initiates, authorizes, or completes a business transaction, final reports or recommendations, etc.
Propriety of Use:
Employees should use adequate professionalism and formality when communicating through e-mail. E-mails should never contain offensive or inappropriate content or language.  Employees should keep in mind that e-mail they create or receive as public employees may be subject to disclosure under Oregon’s Public Records Law.  See HR-384: Records Management Policy for further guidance.
Although e-mail is sent from our workstations and entry is secured by a password, there is no guarantee of confidentiality or privacy. Users must understand that:
        • All e-mail messages communicated and stored on TriMet owned equipment are TriMet's property and may be accessed and monitored by system administrators, supervisors and support staff.
        • Once an e-mail message is sent, there is no guarantee that it will remain exclusively with the intended recipient; it may be forwarded to others without the sender's permission.
        • E-mail messages are subject to discovery proceedings in legal actions.
        • E-mail messages stored electronically in TriMet information technology (including personal e-mail messages) may be subject to public disclosure under Oregon’s Public Records Law.    
        • E-mail messages are public records subject to retention requirements when they are prepared, owned, used or retained in the conduct of TriMet business; relate to an activity, transaction, or function of TriMet; and are necessary to satisfy the fiscal, legal, administrative or historical policies, requirements, or needs of TriMet. See ORS 192.005(5)(a).
See HR-384: TriMet's Records Management Policy for further instructions on the creation, maintenance, access, safeguarding and disposition of TriMet e-mail records.

1 comment:

  1. I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good. This is a great article thanks for sharing this informative information.

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