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23 Oct

Managing Public Records Requests for Electronic Communications

Public Records Requests, Freedom of Information Act and More

Technology has certainly made communications easier and more mobile than ever across all mediums. This also expands the realm of public records requests from the media, citizens and other organizations.

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The Technology Opportunity and Challenge

Prior to 2006, the challenge of managing communications and producing records was controlled through email and how digital documents were stored on an organization’s central file server. In the last decade, the combination of cloud-based platforms for business and the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has exacerbated the creation of electronic records – while making the governance of those records a significant headache.

Now public records can include:

  • Email,
  • Documents stored anywhere from a file server to any cloud platform (e.g. Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive),
  • Social media messaging and posts,
  • Text messaging,
  • Websites and blogs.

This can make satisfying a public records request quite a challenge if you have to navigate numerous systems, accounts and technology mediums to acquire the data necessary.

Determining Archiving Needs for Public Records Requests

The most critical components of archiving in light of potential public records requests are communications between employees and officials and the public (from constituents to other private sector individuals and organizations). By looking at the possible segements of electronic communications – this can help you identify your requirements and build your list of questions for potential providers.

Mediums of Communications for Archiving

Email – email remains the core messaging tool for business of any kind, from government to private sector. The volume remains extremely high due to the solutions put in place for organizations – from Google for Work to Office 365 from Microsoft. Email also generally contains the most data, from longer form messages and conversations to attachments of all kinds (including potentially sensitive information)

Documents – these span all possible types of files created in day to day operations, from letters and memos to reports, spreadsheets, drafts of legal work, schedules, task lists and more. It is essential to standardize on one platform (be it cloud or offline) so as to make certain all files are in a central repository for backup and supervision and retrieval of data for requests.

Social Media – while not a medium for full conversations like email, social channels continue to expand to incorporate engagement that includes questions and answers and other conversations as well as private messaging. It is absolutely now a channel to archive and supervise in conjunction with your email archiving.

Text Messaging – relatively new to public records requests, however, now should be treated just like email. Insure you can capture text messages from your organization-owned mobile devices if employees and officials can send and receive text messages (including pictures).

Websites and Blogs – don’t overlook this area of your communications. The publication of schedules for meetings, articles and commentary from your organization as well as the sharing of documents created are found here. If they pertain to an issue within a public records request, you may need to be able to “go back in time” as to how a website looked on a certain date.

Take this list to your archiver and review how you can capture data in these areas. The convenience of having one central dashboard for retaining, supervising and retrieving electronic communications for public records requests could save days or even weeks of time in the traditional research and assembly for these requests.

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