Printing of Electronic Mail as Federal Government Record Retention?
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (US Department of the Interior) suffered embarrassment in court for the deletion of financial e-mails by former Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs, Neal McCaleb. The e-mails contained important information about money the bureau was collecting and holding in trust for Indian tribes. McCaleb deleted the e-mails because his IT department allocated him too little hard disk space. Under department policy, he was expected to print important e-mails onto paper before he deleted them, but because of confusion about who was authorized and directed to do the printing, no one actually performed the tedious and unwanted task.
Officials like Mr. McCaleb don't naturally embrace clerical duties like printing of e-mails.
The case demonstrates
1. how legally important e-mail records can be,
2. the folly of an IT department trying to save a couple of bucks by being stingy with hard disk space, and
3. how dangerous it is today to view printing as a way to preserve email (or text messages) need for purposes of internal control or funds management.
See Jean Pagano, “Special Master reports findings on deleted e-mails: Department of Interior described as ‘chaotic’,” Native American Press/Ojibwe News, January 31, 2003. This matter was part of the protracted “Cobell” litigation brought by Native Americans against the Department of the Interior. Cobell v. Norton, et al. Case No. 1:96CV01285 (D.D.C.).