With the new Administration entering the White House, we need to consider how previous Administrations managed emails and email records and how the current Administration can learn from those experiences. As we’re all aware, there have been investigations, Congressional inquiries, and countless editorials on emails lost forever that were either sent or received by the White House during the previous Administration.
If history has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that we are a nimble country. That is, we are able to quickly change our ways based on occurrences ““ good or bad ““ and learn from them. After September 11th, the Bush Administration was faced with difficult decisions. Likely, much of the information generated in support of those decisions was delivered via email. Of the email generated during that period, it has been reported that millions are missing. Beyond end user deletion of email from their Inboxes, it is possible that those emails were stored on unsecured email servers, or in .PST or .NSF files that also may have been unsecured. Many of those missing emails were likely of significant historical value, and represented the ongoing movement of our country.
As we continue to learn from history, we can now see where email archiving tools should be deployed in not only the White House, but throughout the federal government. Via the use of email archiving tools, all emails that are sent or received are captured and stored within a secure environment that guarantees the capability to manage and save those items for a predetermined amount of time. To take this a step further, the capture of a subset of those items as records, that contain their own rules of retention, would enable future Administrations the capability to identify and quickly locate specific trails of information through the use of various discovery tools. For example, while a personal email from a spouse would likely not contain historically significant information, and would likely not need to be saved for an extended period of time, an email from President Obama that was sent from his blackberry might very well be significant. The former could be removed from the archive after a short period of time, while the latter should be retained based on Federal regulations such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Presidential Records Act (PRA).
Either way, the ability to permanently delete emails, so they become unrecoverable, from the email servers within the White House is not a practice that should be continued. In fact, simply managing emails directly from within email servers is not a suggested practice. Only via the use of email archival and records management tools, that remove capabilities to randomly delete, can the new Administration look to learn from the previous Administration and move forward to ensure that emails generated by the White House are managed and maintained appropriately.