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Friday, September 14, 2007

"Nobody Saves Emails for Three Years"

This story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes the Missouri Governor's habit of not retaining emails because, hey, "Nobody saves emails for three years."

That might be true for regular home computer users. But no law requires them to retain and provide emails like the law requires government agencies to retain emails for varying lengths of time and then provide them.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose a sales-tax law requires a small business to keep receipts of gross sales for three years and provide those records upon request to the Department of Revenue. Then the government audits the small business and asks for the electronic records. In response, the small business person shrugs and says, "Nobody saves emails for three years." Do you think the benevolent government will say "Golly, sorry to bother you" or rather "You have the right to remain silent ..."

Yes, keeping records and having to turn them over upon request is a hassle--welcome to small businesses' world. Government should get used to retaining electronic records (and, by the way, server storage space for electronic records is monumentally cheaper than printing and filing in file cabinets). Government needs to join the digital age where--gasp!--emails must be saved for a while.

It's the law.

Tip of the hat to Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center for the heads-up on this story.