The Statues of the State of Wisconsin (16.61) define public records as : "... all books, papers, maps, photographs, films, recordings, optical disks, electronically formatted documents or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made, or received by any state agency or its officers or employees in connection with the transaction of public business….” This includes electronic records, as exemplified by "regardless of physical form or characteristics."
Retaining electronic records
Electronic records are as valid as paper and must be retained and destroyed, preserved and secured according to the same schedule as paper records.
So, for example, electronic correspondence of a university employee will be preserved and, unless restricted due to other governing statues, subject to the open records law. Their email will be publicly viewable, if requested.
Keep them electronic
Do not print them out for safekeeping. The university will store and back-up needed electronic records to a level that is considered safe.
Electronic records also need to maintain their functionality—such as links, accounting functions, statistic-keeping functions, etc. By printing them, these functions and other important information such as metadata may be lost.
The records manager in conjunction with the CIO and others will determine policy for electronic records formatting as we move forward.
Transferring electronic records to the Archive
Please contact the Records Manager to determine the best way to transfer your electronic records.
Learn more about Electronic Records
Emails are indeed a public record—except for those that are a non-record, for example, those received as a mass-mailing, spam, communication of a completely personal nature, and similar material (see Non-Records for more information).
It is important to remember that there are minimum legal retention periods, for public records in email, and you are responsible for the retention and destruction of your email records.
Kinds of Email
Often e-mail consists of:
1. Non-records: email received as a mass-mailing, spam, unsolicited product and service offers, communication of a completely personal nature, and similar material.
And material covered by the Business Communication General Records Schedule:
2. Routine Business Communication: Normal correspondence in which you engage to carry out your task. You must keep this in your email account for a minimum of six months.
3. Transitory Business Communication: Simple notification of meetings, draft minutes, courtesy copies, quick questions, invitations to lunch, reminders, etc. A rule of thumb is; if it could have been done in a quick phone call, it is transitory. You must keep this in your email account for a minimum of seven days.
Less frequently, email is a….
4. Permanent Public Record or a record with longer retention periods: Communication that would be permanent public record in any other form, such as the official correspondence of the Chancellor or any higher administrator. Department Chairs may author policy or help in developing it in such a way that this becomes permanent correspondence. Ask yourself: If it were paper, would I file it in my subject files? If yes, retain it in an email folder and the archives will ask for it at a future date.
ALSO: Some documents transmitted via email, especially attachments, are not simply email, but records that fall under other records management schedules, like minutes, budget materials, invoices, etc. Specific Records schedules govern these (if they are the originals and not merely copies) and they will frequently need to be retained for several years or more. Save them on your computer or shared department drive.
Knowing what a specific email is in these terms is important, because it is beneficial to you and to the university to treat the email properly according to those categories.
When to Delete
If email has surpassed the minimum retention guideline and you no longer need to use it, delete it! It saves expensive storage space, and decreases our [read YOUR] liability if litigation arises. What is deleted according to schedule is legally deleted.
Also, delete the non-records or those with expired retention periods in your deleted mailbox frequently, at least weekly, to free up server space and get rid of old emails, if you do not do this, they legally (and actually) still exist.
Learn more by viewing the Powerpoint below: