Electronic Records General Overview
Electronic technology has greatly expanded the methods of creating, editing, maintaining, transmitting, and retrieving records. Electronic records are clearly included in the definition of a record. All the rules for paper records apply to electronic records as well.
Electronic records should be created and stored in electronic files just as paper records are placed into filing cabinets. Careful consideration and planning is needed in the grouping and naming of these files.
A document maintained in electronic format may be a convenience copy if the record copy is in another format, such as paper or microfilm. If the record copy in one format is destroyed, and the electronic information has not been destroyed, then the electronic file becomes the record copy. For this reason, it is very important to delete electronic files according to the Records Retention Schedule. Convenience copies should be kept only as long as needed and no longer than the record copy. Conversely, in many cases the electronic record is the official copy and paper is for convenience.
The Texas State Library Archives does not accept electronic records because of the potential for problems with the hardware and software dependability and stability and questions about the ability to access the information over the long term. The Texas State Library recommends that any record with a retention period of over 10 years be in paper or microfilm format. Other sources recommend establishing a migration plan for records requiring retention of over 3 years, due to the rapidly changing hardware and software standards.
The standards and procedures for electronic records require that a document created in an electronic format must have the ability to:
- Be clearly identified on the system to enable staff to access the record.
- Be retrievable by the hardware and software in use- must be able to migrate to any new systems as necessary.
- Be protected and secure from unauthorized access and alteration.
- Be disposed of in compliance with the organization’s retention schedule and must be disposed of in a manner that ensures protection of confidential information and does not allow for recovery.
The Texas A&M System regulation 61.99.01 Retention of State Records (http://tamus.edu/offices/policy/policies/pdf/61-99-01.pdf) has several sections that apply directly to the management of electronic records. The definition of a state record is media transparent. State records, regardless of format, must be listed on the retention schedule and cannot be destroyed without prior approval from the University Records Officer.
The University provides computers, electronic mail, and Internet connection to employees to use in the course of performing their jobs. Personal use is expected to be incidental, and not interfere with work. The University reserves the right to monitor computer use, review employee files and e-mail, and to limit or restrict access to computer usage. Electronic files and e-mail are subject to the Texas Open Records Act and to discovery in the event of litigation.
For more information on the rules and regulations regarding electronic resources, see:
- TAMU Rules for Responsible Computing
- Texas Administrative Code Standards and Procedures for Management of Electronic Records, Title 13, Part 1, Chapter 6, Subchapter C, Rule 6.94
- Texas State Library, State Agency Bulletin #1, Electronic Records Standards and Procedures
Is Email a record?
That depends. Email is not a record type or a series. It is a means of conveying information or a format. Its retention is based on the content of the message. If the email message meets the criteria of a University record, it must be managed with the same diligence as one would handle a more "traditional" record.
The use of electronic mail has assumed an increasingly important role in the day-to-day communications of all university personnel. The use of e-mail in the course of business carries with it the responsibility to manage these communications as records. For a complete and accurate record, an electronic mail system must retain metadata (the address of the sender and recipient(s), date and time of transmission, and confirmation of receipt), as well as the actual message content.
The key to effectively managing email is to get rid of the non-records and transitory information as quickly as possible, so that one is left with a small percentage to manage in an organized folder structure.