WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Archives in late March released new rules that require federal agencies to treat electronic mail messages like other government records — preserved as required under federal records statutes and subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Calling the new standards a “forward-looking position on information age records,” acting archivist Trudy Peterson said they “recognize the importance of e-mail communications in the conduct of federal agency business and provide directions on how to ensure that e- mail records are preserved.”
Former Washington Post reporter Scott Armstrong, who founded the National Security Archive, a repository for unclassified national security information, sued the government on the last day of the Reagan administration in January 1989 after learning that e-mail messages were being systematically destroyed. He continued his suit to preserve administration records through the Bush and Clinton administrations.
The new Archives rules reflect the findings of the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington (D.C. Cir.) in cases brought by Armstrong, that electronics communications systems clearly contain records that must be managed, safeguarded and reviewed for appropriate preservation. However, while Armstrong’s suits sought White House records, these Archives rules apply to all federal agencies.
The guidelines provide for preserving the records electronically, rather than on paper, in order to preserve other important information about the records, such as where they were distributed.
The Archives asked for public comment over the next three months and predicted that final rules will be in place within the next five months.
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