Another Lesson in E-mail Archiving from the White House

Lora Bentley

Remember all the fuss when it came to light that millions of Bush White House e-mails had been lost? For four years, White House staffers apparently used Republican National Committee e-mail accounts as much as they used their official White House accounts, and those accounts weren't properly archived. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and George Washington University National Security Archive sued, arguing that the administration had violated federal archiving laws.


At the time, my colleague Carl Weinschenk wisely said:

There are many ways to use this situation as a teaching tool...It is up to the organization to create and enforce an e-mail policy and make sure that employees understand that they agreed to follow it when they accepted employment...On the technical front, companies must make sure that the e-mail and archiving systems they have in place meet all applicable state and federal laws.

Many businesses undoubtedly did just that and used the situation as an opportunity to reinforce their own policies with employees. Now, nearly three years later, the current administration is giving businesses another e-mail archiving teaching tool. Except this time, it's not a cautionary tale illustrating what not to do. From Messaging News:

This week the Obama administration released details about its archiving of unclassified White House e-mail... "We have done our best in this case to maximize the number of e-mails that have been found or reconstructed from disaster recovery backup tapes," explains Kristen Lejnieks, counsel for the National Security Archive. "The government can now find and search over 22 million more e-mails than they could in late 2005. They also will restore 94 calendar days from backup tapes."

The CREW lawsuit paved the way for the new archiving technology used in the White House today as well as new guidelines for determining whether an e-mail should be kept for purposes of the presidential and/or federal archives. And if the White House can do it, so can any company out there that hasn't yet tackled it or whose predecessors may have left a mess behind.

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