Government email deleting: intent matters

I caught Keith Baldrey on the aether-box today (CKNW) and he was being generous in his distribution of benefit of the doubt to the poor, poor government staffers trying to handle their email:

Keith Baldrey

“I’ve talked to government staffers about this, and they are confused on what the rules are, it’s very unclear and unevenly applied over what should be deleted and what should not be.”
— Keith Baldrey, Tuesday, October 27, 15:24 on CKNW

Before we get to remedies, let’s review what these poor confused dears are doing. For whatever reason, because they believe the email is not an important record, or a duplicate, or they just can’t bear to burden the taxpayers of BC with storing a further 85KB of data, the beleaguered staffers are doing the following:

  1. They select the email in question and hit Delete.
  2. Then they go to their Trash folder and select the option to purge that folder.
  3. Finally they open up a special folder called Recover Deleted, and select the option to purge that folder.

Let’s be clear. If the poor confused staffers were just plain vanilla innocently deleting emails that they thought were transitory but were not, they would be stopping at step number one. But they aren’t. So there’s a very particular intent in play here, and that’s to make sure that nobody ever sees what’s in these emails ever, ever, ever again. And that intent is not consistent with the (current) cover story about innocently not understanding the rules in play with respect to email management.

Moving on to remedies.

We don’t need to train them more (or maybe we do, but not for this). We need to establish a corporate email archive that simply takes a copy of every email, sent and received and dumps it into a searchable vault. This is widely available technology, used by public companies and investment dealers around the world.

Once the archive is in place, staffers can manage their email any way they like. They can keep a pristine, empty mail box, the way Minister Todd Stone apparently likes to operate. Or they can keep a complete record of all their email, ready to search and aid their work. Or some happy mixture of the two. They’ll be more effective public servants, and the public won’t need to worry about records going down the memory hole any more.

Let’s get it done, OK?