Retaining E-Mails Hit-and-Miss Proposition in S.C.

The NerveMany of South Carolina’s highest-profile state entities do not have a policy in place regarding the retention of electronic mail, meaning essential correspondence regarding state business is potentially being lost.

Among those without an e-mail retention policy: the Governor’s Office, the Department of Revenue, the state Treasurer’s Office, and the Comptroller General’s Office.

There is no statewide comprehensive plan regarding the retention of official state e-mail in South Carolina, which means e-mail retention plans are left up to individual agencies, according to Bill Henry, an electronic records consultant with the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

All e-mails from significant agencies pertaining to state business should be preserved, just as any other document would be, Henry said.

“If (the e-mail) relates to public business in any way shape or form, theoretically it can only be disposed through the retention schedule in place,” he added.

Some bodies have a relatively detailed plan in place for handling electronic mail.

Both the S.C. Senate and House of Representatives delete e-mails after 180 days. In the Senate, correspondence can be retained by saving specific e-mails.

In the House, legislators and staff must print hard copies to retain e-mails beyond the 180-day limit.

The S.C. Attorney General’s Office has one of the more specific policies regarding preservation of e-mails, part of an overall public record-retention effort.

“Deletion of computer records without (Department of Archives and History) approval is appropriate only when a paper copy of the public record is retained,” according to official agency policy.

For executive correspondence within the Attorney General’s Office, e-mails must be retained for three years within the office, then transferred to the Department of Archives and History for permanent storage. Staff correspondence must be retained for five years within the office, then can be destroyed following approval by Archives and History.

In response to a request to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for its e-mail retention policy, The Nerve was sent the agency’s four-page “Computer Usage: Internet and Network Services Policy,” for which it was charged $15.25. That figure was based on the time it took to gather the information and put it into a document, according to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s chief of staff, Helen Ann Thrower.

Unfortunately, the matter of e-mail retention was not addressed in the information sent by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.

There are other offices with no official policy in place for the retention of electronic mail:

  • “Our office does not have a stated policy for keeping e-mails,” said Ben Fox, spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford.
  • “It’s just always been accepted that e-mail correspondence dealing with state business is kept for a reasonable period of time, so that they can be recalled if needed,” said R.J. Shealy, spokesman for Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s office.
  • At the S.C. Department of Revenue, management of state e-mails is left to each individual employee, spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said.
  • The state Treasurer’s Office is currently querying other agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Archives and History, for assistance in developing a policy that covers the retention of electronic mail, Deputy Treasurer Scott Malyerck said.

The S.C. Department of Commerce did not respond to repeated written inquiries about its e-mail retention policy.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or kevin@scpolicycouncil.com.