The state’s definition of public records specifically includes “electronic data-processing records” and says the “physical form or characteristics” of a document have no bearing on whether it is a public record.
A lawsuit was pending in May 2009 involving access to e-mail messages of former Gov. Mike Easley. A whistleblower had disclosed that the governor’s press office discouraged the use of e-mail because of the paper trail it left and directed that when e-mail on a controversial subject was unavoidable, agency public affairs directors were to “double delete” e-mails from computer systems. Easley established the E-Mail Records Review Panel that issued recommendations on retention, most of which were signed on the governor’s last day in office.
There is no legal distinction in the law on access and retention between electronic and paper documents.