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Agencies can delete electronic records if they keep paper copies

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  1. Freedom of Information
D.C. CIRCUIT--Federal agencies do not have to keep electronic records if they maintain paper copies of the same information, the…

D.C. CIRCUIT–Federal agencies do not have to keep electronic records if they maintain paper copies of the same information, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled in mid-August, reversing a two-year-old federal District Court decision.

The Records Disposal Act allows the Archivist to make decisions on the form in which records are maintained, the appeals panel said, and he can allow agencies to choose, based upon their own needs, whether to keep records electronically or on paper.

The decision reinstates a 1995 directive by the Archivist of the United States authorizing agencies to delete word processing files and e-mail messages after they are recorded on paper, microform or an electronic recordkeeping system, when they are no longer needed for updating or revision.

Public Citizen sued the National Archives in December 1996 saying that the Archivist ignored the “unique value of electronic records” in granting agencies blanket authority to delete files in electronic format. The District Court ruled for Public Citizen in October 1997 saying that the Archivist could not base records preservation decisions on the technology employed to create and keep records rather than upon the content of the records. It called the directive GRS 20 “null and void” pending appeal.

In April 1998 the District Court had ordered the Archivist to inform agencies that the directive was not in effect pending appeal. (Public Citizen v. Carlin; Counsel: Michael Tankersley, Washington, D.C.)