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E-Records Burden Prompts Cities to Pursue E-Mail Archiving

Open records requests are forcing small cities to modernize their e-mail archiving software.

by / February 16, 2011

Three years ago, during an information management conference that Branford, Conn., IT Director Peter Hugret attended, he listened to speakers who shared “war stories” about private-sector businesses being court ordered to produce documents under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires publicly traded companies to improve record keeping pursuant to corporate disclosures.

Upon hearing those stories, Hugret thought to himself, “There’s going to come a day when [saving documents] is going to be necessary. Right now, legally we don’t have to hold onto documents forever unless we know that it’s going to be a document that the courts are going to look for. Then we have an individual responsibility to secure that document.”

But that’s changing in many states and cities. While the Freedom of Information Act has standardized open records regulation at the federal level of government, state and local governments and agencies are subject to various open records laws, some of which are stringent.

This evolution of data retention requirements is encouraging municipalities like Branford to modernize their e-mail archiving systems in order to efficiently process open records requests.

Branford and some other municipalities have switched to e-mail archiving software and hardware that back up years of inbound, outbound and internal e-mails, even if they’ve been deleted. 

For example, in March 2010, the Pasco County, Fla., Board of County Commissioners settled on an agreement with e-mail management vendor Mimecast for cloud-based e-mail archiving services to speed up public record requests, according to the Florida Local Government Purchasing Network.

In another example, Baton Rouge, La., purchased the ArcMail Defender e-mail archiving system in January for the city’s more than 2,000 Microsoft Exchange e-mail accounts. Archiving e-mails has since assisted with several open records requests, said the city’s information services project manager, Keldric Emery.

“We get somewhat complicated requests,” Emery said. “We might have a request where [constituents] might ask for an e-mail maybe from two different people on a certain day, or maybe in a certain week or certain period.”

The archiving system makes copies of every e-mail sent over a city’s mail server while filtering inbound spam. A copy of an e-mail is sent to the appropriate recipient, while another copy is stored on ArcMail’s servers where it’s indexed, compressed and archived. All data is then encrypted to ensure data security, according to ArcMail’s website.

Branford purchased the same system in August 2008 for nearly $2,500. The town’s Microsoft Outlook e-mail accounts — roughly 400 of them — were switched over to ArcMail Defender. Each employee received a user name and logon password to access his or her archived e-mails, which can be done by typing in search cues such as e-mail addresses, names and dates, said Hugret.

The archive system also stores voicemails and faxes that are sent over e-mail, said Kathryn LaBanca, Branford’s assistant finance director. At first, LaBanca needed some time to adjust to the system, but once she became more familiar with it, she said she didn’t have any trouble with the software.
When the archiving system stores the e-mails, only one copy of each e-mail sent is stored, even if it has multiple recipients. For example, if an e-mail is sent to 20 people, only one of the e-mail’s 20 copies is stored, Hugret said. Since multiple copies of e-mails aren’t stored, Branford will be able to store more e-mails for a longer time period.

“That’s important from a storage standpoint because we think with this device — and based on our pressing usage — we’re under 15 percent of capacity,” Hugret said. “We’re probably going to have the same appliance for seven years before we need to get another appliance.”

LaBanca said she can delete e-mails more frequently knowing all e-mail copies will be stored. If a records request is made, she won’t have to worry that important documents have been deleted permanently.

“The thought or the concern of deleting something that you might have a FOIA request for two years down the road,” LaBanca said, “it takes that burden off you.”

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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