Monday, January 12, 2009

Easley's curious final order: Keep e-mails

In one of his last acts in office, Gov. Mike Easley signed an executive order Friday that requires state agencies to retain copies of e-mails for at least 10 years, prohibits state employees from deleting copies of e-mail messages "sent or received in the course of conducting State business" for at least 24 hours so that agencies can make a daily backup record of those e-mails, and advises executive branch employees to treat all e-mail messages sent or received though state e-mail accounts as public records, subject to disclosure under the public records law.

Easley's order was signed on his last full day in office. Newly-installed Gov. Bev Perdue has planned to issue her own e-mail order Monday but held off so she and her staff would study the Easley order.

It was interesting that Easley took this particular time and way to issue an e-mail order. Last spring he appointed an E-mail Records Review Panel after news reports showed he and his administration had allowed state employees to exercise some judgment about deleting certain emails.

That panel did not go as far as public advocates and news media executives recommended. The panel recommended keeping e-mails for five years, and did not materially alter the policy allowing workers to delete e-mails that they thought had nothing substantive to do with official business.

Easley's executive order doubles the length of time e-mails must be kept and seemed to treat all e-mails sent or received as public records. And it seems to warn everyone that any e-mail sent or received on a government account would be subject to public release regardless of content.

But in one curious sentence that seemed to offer a bit of a loophole to state employees, Easley ordered, "Executive Branch employees shall not delete in a 24-hour period any e-mail messages sent or received in the course of conducting State business." Did that mean they could delete e-mails sent or received but which were not part of "conducting State business"?

Maybe, maybe not, but that's something that Perdue could clearly and easily fix by amending the sentence and reissuing the order over her name.

Another question: Why did Easley wait until the end of his administration to issue this order? Why not last summer, when it might have done his image some good? Or was he simply waiting until the last minute so his administration would not have to comply with it?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

That last part, Jack. Typical Democrat hypocrisy: Do as I say, not as I do (or did).

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