Email messages created using Australian Government systems are Commonwealth records and must be managed in accordance with the Archives Act 1983. They are also subject to related legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act 1982, Privacy Act 1988, Evidence Act 1995 and the Electronic Transactions Act 1999.
Email as a record
Emails that constitute evidence of a business decision, an action or a commitment, must be captured as a record.
If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, you need to save the email into a records management system:
- Did I receive or send this email in the course of my work?
- Does this relate to a project that I am working on?
- Does the email document approvals of an action?
- Does the email provide advice or give a direction?
Records captured into a records management system will be:
- trusted, authentic and reliable
- useable and accessible for as long as they are required
- secure for unauthorised assess, alteration and deletion
- related to other relevant records that support the particular business activity.
Records captured into a records management system can be managed and their retention and destruction aligned with the appropriate records authority or your agency’s NAP policy.
Emails, like all other records, need to be legally disposed of in accordance with a normal administrative practice or sentenced and legally disposed of under the provisions of the Archives Act using an agency-specific records authority or a general records authority.
Personal emails that do not relate to Commonwealth business are not Commonwealth records and can be destroyed.
Agency policies and guidelines
Emails need to be actively managed through agency policies and procedures, with staff trained to implement these directions.
Agencies can have a separate policy on managing email, or incorporate specific directions on managing emails in their corporate records and information management policy.
Policies and procedures need to identify:
- conditions of use of the email system, including for personal use
- who is responsible for capturing emails into the records management system
- at what point the email should be captured into the records management system
- what details, or metadata, need to be captured along with the email to ensure the context of the communication is clear over time e.g. details of the sender and addressee, subject of the email, the date of creation and capture
- the tone and language used in correspondence from an agency email address, including personal emails
- the conditions under which emails can be deleted by an authorised officer
- titling conventions for emails captured and managed in the records management system
- how email attachments are to be managed; whether they are captured as part of the original email or as a separate record.
Promoting effective email management
When your agency has worked out its policies and procedures relating to email management, these need to be communicated to staff at all levels of the organisation. Consider:
- including instruction and training in email use and management into induction training
- incorporating email management procedures into daily work procedures
- communicating email management directions in staff newsletters and on the intranet.
For more information on the relationship between email archiving solutions and records management software, see Are email archiving solutions records management solutions?