Howard condemns e-mail deletion

  Valvegrid 17:38 18 Dec 04
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Personally I never keep emails at work for any longer than is necessary, mainly because I don't regard emails as official documents, plus they just fill up my profile. If there is an attachment in the form of a memo, that is the part that is saved.

I'm not sure if our organisation saves emails on our server, that's something I'll ask next time IT decides to turn up at one of our Directorate meetings.

  beeuuem 18:25 18 Dec 04

I thought that the most telling part of the report was

"According to a report in the Times, the deleted e-mails will be stored on back-up systems which are beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act because of the cost of accessing them."

Open government in action.

  Sir Radfordin 22:53 18 Dec 04

Had a discussion about this recently. The Freedom of Information Act is going to make people get rid of information that may not be needed/wanted to be kept in some instances. Yet companies need to keep certain records for 7 years. The last company I worked for was increasing the backup tape cycle for the emails so they always had a years worth of backups to go back on. Reason was incase evidence was ever needed for contacts/legal issues etc.

The advice from some quarters on the FOI Act is to stop keeping computer records and go back to keeping things on paper! Apparently one police force has removed everyone's "personal network share" from the computers and everything has to be kept in an open network share. Madness.

  Forum Editor 00:23 19 Dec 04

doesn't apply to privately owned companies. It applies to public authorities, including schools and the police, and lots of information will be exempt from the act - there are 23 classes of exemption in fact.

When a member of the public asks for access to information held by a public authority the authority must provide it within 20 days of receipt of the applicable fee, provided it (the information) doesn't fall within one of the exemption classes. Obviously, if information has been deleted it can't be accessed.

All privately owned companies should now have protocols in place for the proper archiving of email traffic - emails can provide a valuable information audit trail in case of need.

Michael Howard is correct what on earth are the Gov trying to cover up? Open Gov allegedly this Gov is supposed to stand for.
do not make me laugh
Tax man demands that everyone keeps records for at least 6 years before disposing of them so why is Gov trying to exempt itself?

  Forum Editor 11:26 19 Dec 04

bear in mind that Michael Howard made this statement for political reasons - it's his job as opposition leader to criticise the government. It doesn't mean that his ministers might not have taken the same decision (to delete emails), had he been Prime Minister.

The reasoning behind the government's decision is probably sound - the cost of maintaining a system that would allow fast access to individual files (and the staff to maintain it) would be very high, and as most of the emails are undoubtedly of no interest whasoever to anyone after a month or so I believe the decision is probably a right one. We shouldn't be too ready to believe that everything that government departments write about is of massive importance, and that if we are denied access to information it must be because the government wants to hide some dark and deadly secret, or is 'covering up' some scandal. There are scandals of course, and they are covered up, but that's always been the case, and journalists have a way of uncovering nasties in the woodshed anyway.

We will certainly be denied access to secret information in any case. As I said earlier - there are 23 exemption classes, so don't go thinking that you would ever see copies of emails written by the Prime Minister to George Bush about Iraq because you won't.

  phredd 20:29 20 Dec 04

If they can't lawfully deny access they'll claim that archives are contaminated (with asbestos dust is a recent example) and are a health hazard so cannot be made accessible to the public - or some similar excuse to deny access to sensitive issues. This was claimed to have happened to archives that are just about to reach the 30 year point at which they are supposed to be made available for the public to view if they wish.

  Senile Syd 15:35 21 Dec 04

"The reasoning behind the government's decision is probably sound - the cost of maintaining a system that would allow fast access to individual files (and the staff to maintain it) would be very high..."

...apart from which it would be 10x over-budget and would fall over as soon as it booted up.

  Valvegrid 17:53 21 Dec 04

Do I detect a tiny bit of cynicism? I don't think you'll get too much disagreement there though!

  Starfox 18:30 21 Dec 04

The words *Reason* and *Government* don't usually belong in the same sentance :o)

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