Should governments be subject to message archiving? - Part 3

By Donald McElligott on May 1, 2015
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DON MCElligott

Vice President of Compliance Supervision

Donald has over 10 years of experience working with message supervision and compliance technology in the financial industry.


In the early days of the 21st century, the financial industry was rocked by a series of massive scandals. Among the most prominent were the meltdown of Enron, the subsequent criminal case against Arthur Anderson, and the sudden bankruptcy of Worldcom – at the time the largest bankruptcy filing in United States history. These cases were followed by increased federal regulation of recordkeeping in the financial world, which necessitated comprehensive archiving of electronic messaging.

In this three-part series, Global Relay will examine how a number of recent recordkeeping scandals in government demonstrate that this process is about to repeat itself in the public sector. The scandals may be different, but the problem is the same – inadequate requirements for the retention of electronic message data.

Parts One and Two examined recent scandals in state government agencies, the IRS, and the LA Unified School District, and showed how they were forcing governments to re-evaluate their email retention policies.


Part 3: The Why and The How of Archiving

For the public, the benefits of increased government archiving of electronic communication are obvious – transparency and accountability. Transparency in government is crucial to democracy, and with so much government business conducted electronically, lax retention requirements compromise the integrity of the public record. Comprehensive archiving will make it harder for shady deals to pass unnoticed, as demonstrated in the LA United School District iPad scandal covered in Part Two of this series.

For government entities, the benefit is being free from speculation. If they have nothing to hide, then transparency is to their benefit. If Lois Lerner is telling the truth (see Part One), and the suspicious timing of her hard drive failure is a coincidence, then you can be sure that the IRS would love to be able to prove that fact with archived copies of the missing messages.

In cases where illegal activity is limited to a single employee, as it may have been in the South Dakota fraud scandal described in Part One, the government can use email archiving to demonstrate that others were not complicit.

It's Not as Hard as They Think

Storage is not the cost that it was when many of the current retention policies were implemented. Archiving vendors can help governments economically meet even the most stringent storage requirements. As a cloud-based solution, Global Relay’s billing is based on the number of users, with no limits on data storage. This type of system frees up government entities to retain terabytes of data with no fear of increased costs.

Along with storage costs, prohibitive implementation costs are often cited as preventing governments from updating retention systems. With a software-as-a-service cloud solution, no new hardware is required, system upgrades are applied remotely, and all maintenance can be performed by the vendor. The lack of hidden costs for implementation and upkeep keeps the true cost of ownership low. Over a very short amount of time, the savings of the new system can overtake the costs of the old.

An effective archiving vendor can also free up a great deal of employee time. Instead of employees sifting through their own inboxes daily or weekly to stay under caps and determine what is relevant, an archiving solution makes comprehensive retention automatic.

North Carolina is a great example of how proper email archiving can be integrated by governments. In the executive branch of the state government, a robust archiving system provided by a private vendor supports a policy that requires the retention of emails for 10 years. Retention can be extended even further when messages are considered particularly important.

Message Archiving in the Near Future

Federal legislation might often move at a glacial pace, but state and local governments can react much more quickly. As demonstrated by the response to the various scandals of the past few months, changes to message archiving requirements are coming sooner rather than later. To be on the right side of this issue, provide the public with proper transparency, and insulate against scandal, governments and other public entities should begin establishing sound message retention policies and implementing the necessary systems to support them.

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