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Email Management in the Government of Canada

Introduction

An electronic mail message or email is probably the most frequently used form of communication in the Government of Canada owing to the ease and speed of sending and receiving information electronically. The growth of this form of communication underlines the fact that electronic mail messages, like all forms of records, must be managed in accordance with the business needs of an institution and Government of Canada legislation and policies. Records provide information about and evidence of government activities, decision-making, program and service delivery to Canadians, and accountability. It is crucial that government institutions adhere to good information/records management practices and be familiar with the applicable legislative and policy requirements for the management of such records.

Purpose

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to government institutions, including managers, information/records managers, and individual users, on the management of email as records of the Government of Canada.

Scope

This document applies to all government institutions subject to the Access to Information, Privacy or Library and Archives of Canada Act.

N.B. Institutions should note that Section 4 of the Access to Information Act states that subject to the provisions of the Act every person has a right to and shall, on request, be given access to any record under the control of a government institution. Section 12(1) of the Library and Archives of Canada Act states that no record under the control of a government institution shall be destroyed or disposed of without the consent of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Definitions

  • Electronic mail (email) messages are communications, sent or received internally or externally on an electronic mail system, and include any attachments transmitted with the message as well as the associated transmission and receipt data.
  • Record includes any correspondence, memorandum, book, plan, map, drawing, diagram, pictorial or graphic work, photograph, film, microform, sound recording, videotape, machine readable record, and any other documentary material, and any copy thereof. (National Archives of Canada Act,1987, Access to Information Act R.S. 1985)
  • Records Disposition Authority (RDA) is the instrument by which the Librarian and Archivist of Canada requires the transfer of records deemed archival or historical to Library and Archives and by which the National Archivist grants consent to destroy other records or transfer them from the control of the Government of Canada.
  • Spam mail is unsolicited commercial email (UCE) which is also known as bulk email (Termium), or commonly - junk mail.
  • Transitory Records are those records that are required only for a limited time to ensure the completion of a routine action or the preparation of a subsequent record. Transitory records do not include records required by government institutions or Ministers to control, support, or document the delivery of programs, to carry out operations, to make decisions, or to account for activities of government. (Authority for the Destruction of Transitory Records, Library and Archives Canada 1990) www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/government/disposition/007007-1016-e.html.

Guidelines

1. Most email messages are records

Email messages, including any electronic attachments, created, collected, received or transmitted in the normal course of government business which reflect the functions, business activities, and decisions of government are records.

A record is under the control of a government institution when that institution is authorized to grant or deny access to the record, to govern its use and, subject to the approval of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, to dispose of it. Regarding the question of physical possession, a record held by an institution, whether at headquarters, regional, satellite or other office, either within or outside Canada, is presumed to be under its control unless there is evidence to the contrary. A record held elsewhere on behalf of an institution is also under its control, for example at an employee's home or on business travel.

Since most email messages are records, they must be managed in accordance with all applicable legislation and federal government policies such as the Access to Information and Privacy Acts, the Library and Archives of Canada Act, Treasury Boards Management of Government Information (MGI) Policy and the Government Security Policy.

2. Email records relating to the business of an institution must be kept

  • Email messages created, collected, received or transmitted during the normal course of government business are records of the Government of Canada. Such messages and their attachments reflect the functions, business activities, and decisions of the government. They must be kept to ensure the integrity of the corporate memory of government. Records, including Transitory records , regardless of format, must only be disposed of according to Records Disposition Authorities approved by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.
  • Email messages of a transitory nature should be deleted once they have served their purpose. Pursuant to the Authority for the Destruction of Transitory Records www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/government/disposition/007007-1016-e.html, email messages that are transitory may include: forwarded email; spam mail (junk mail); information in the form of casual communication; process versions of electronic information that were not communicated outside of the creating office; electronic versions of documents used for information, reference or convenience only or draft versions of documents where annotations and additional records are incorporated into subsequent versions. Electronic documents used to produce a hard copy version maintained in hard copy files should also be considered to be transitory however e-records are the preferred record.
  • Email messages whose content is of a personal nature are not records of the Government of Canada and therefore are not covered by the Library and Archives of Canada Act. Examples include email messages regarding arrangements for lunch, an employee's personal information such as email relating to hobbies, extracurricular activities, announcements, unsolicited advertising, etc. Such messages should be deleted once their usefulness is completed. However, a user must not delete records where the institution has received a formal request, under the Access to Information or Privacy Acts, relating to these records.

3. Email messages must remain intact

Where electronic messages and their attachments pertain to the business of the government, they must remain intact in terms of their structure (layout or format and links to attachments and related documents), content (the information contained in the message) and context (information pertaining to the sender and recipients as well as any header information and transmittal data such as time and date). This is to ensure they retain their value as evidence of government business. Additionally, these messages must be protected against unauthorized access, use, manipulation, destruction or loss.

4. Email messages should be captured into a recognizable records system

Electronic messages relating to the official business of the Government of Canada should be filed into the departmental records system pursuant to the records management practices of the institution. The information/records management area of government institutions is responsible for records systems and advising all users how to file their electronic messages, attachments and other corporate documents.

If a corporate electronic records system exists within the institution, email messages created/received in the course of government business should be filed electronically to the corporate system. If no electronic records system exists the email messages should be forwarded either electronically or as a printed hard copy, depending on advice from the institution's Information/Records Management Office for inclusion in the existing corporate records management system. If a user has a large quantity of email messages not yet in the Institution's record keeping system, they should contact their Information/ Records Management staff to discuss approaches to managing the situation.

5. Email messages must be managed efficiently and effectively

Electronic messages must be managed in accordance with good information/records management practices in order to preserve the integrity of the record, meet the business needs of the institution, and comply with accountability requirements. Knowledge of pertinent Government of Canada legislation1 and policies2 is essential for the management of email messages.

Good information/records management practices for the life cycle of the record from Planning to Evaluation will ensure that electronic messages remain accessible, i.e. retrievable and readable, over time. Email messages must also be protected to safeguard unauthorized disclosure of sensitive or personal information in accordance with the Access to Information and Privacy Acts and the Government of Canada Security Policy. It is also important to note that records, including email, cannot be destroyed by individuals or institutions unless the Librarian and Archivist of Canada issues a Records Disposition Authority for the disposition of such records (see section on Roles and Responsibilities).

6. The management of email must be supported by corporate policies, guidelines and procedures

Government institutions must ensure that email and attachments remain accessible in the corporate records system for the life of the record through to its eventual disposition, either by transfer of records of archival value to Library and Archives Canada, by destruction of non-archival records once their retention periods have elapsed or by removal from the control of the Government of Canada (alienation). The issuance of institutional policies, guidelines and procedures should explain such matters as:

  • legislation and regulations specific to the institution
  • management of the email system and accountability for the information contained within the email messages sent and received via the system
  • use of the system by employees for personal or private business
  • responsibilities for the management of electronic messages, including the identification of the responsibility centre for the corporate records system
  • responsibilities and guidelines for the retention and disposition of email records and the user's role in this process
  • access to and security of electronic messages.

7. Privacy and Security measures must be applied

Unless a department has implemented security features such as encryption, users of electronic mail systems should not assume or have an expectation of privacy or security of their email.

Pursuant to the Government of Canada Security Policy, sensitive government information must be protected, and access to it controlled. Where departmental email systems do not have enabled security features, classified or protected email should not be sent. When in doubt, the appropriate Security and Information/Records Management specialists should be consulted.

8. Roles and Responsibilities of:

Information/Records Managers

  • The Information/Records Management (IM/RM) organization of Government of Canada institutions holds particular responsibilities for the management of records relating to government business, including email. The Information/Records Management organization is responsible for the management of corporate records throughout their life cycle, as well as ensuring the proper application of relevant policies, guidelines and procedures. IM\RM staff provide assistance and advice on records management, including email, and related issues to the various units within the institution.

Managers

  • Government of Canada managers should ensure that staff/users are aware of their responsibilities regarding the management of email.
  • Managers should ensure that their respective institutions follow the policies, guidelines and procedures for the capture and management of email

Individual Users

  • All staff are responsible for distinguishing between electronic messages relating to the official business of the Government of Canada and those relating to activities of a personal nature. The latter should be deleted once their usefulness has passed.
  • Staff are responsible for forwarding email relating to the business of the Government of Canada into the corporate records system. The information/records management staff of the institution can provide advice on how to do this.
  • If users have any doubts about the value of an email message as an official record, they should contact the Information/Records Management staff of the institution for advice. It is better to retain such a message than delete it and lose potentially valuable information, and/or face sanctions for the unauthorized destruction of a record.
  • A best practice is for records management staff of government institutions to emphasize the responsibility of the originators to classify their email documents at creation into the departmental classification system if one exists. This best practice will ensure that documents are consistently classified and will therefore improve the retrievability of the documents they create. The onus of accountability for managing email documents will then lie with all employees of a government institution.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has specific roles and responsibilities related to the management of information, which include:

  • Helping federal government institutions integrate information management requirements into corporate business and information technology strategies and plans.
  • Developing and promoting, in collaboration with Library and Archives Canada, and other federal government institutions, a framework for the management of information, which includes standards, guidelines, tools, and best practices.
  • Representing and promoting functional communities for the management of information as required to develop and sustain information management specialist capacity and practices that support service delivery.

Library and Archives Canada

  • Library and Archives Canada has specific roles and responsibilities related to the management of information, which include identifying, selecting, acquiring and preserving records in all media, considered to be of enduring value to Canada.
  • Library and Archives Canada also provides direction and assistance in planning the retention and disposition of electronic records and email messages and developing operational policies, tools and guidance in support of government-wide and institution-specific information management initiatives.
  • Records Disposition Authorities are issued by Library and Archives Canada to enable federal government institutions to dispose of records, in all media, that no longer have operational value, by permitting their destruction (at the discretion of institutions), by requiring their transfer to Library and Archives Canada, or by agreeing to their alienation from the control of the Government of Canada.
  • Library and Archives serves as a leader in building records management capacity in the Government of Canada and as a credible resource on information/records management and also monitors the state of information management and helps identify and resolve significant issues as they emerge.

The application of effective information management policies will enable institutions to meet legislative as well as business and accountability requirements. Information regarding Information Management and related Information Management Publications at Library and Archives Canada is available on its web site at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca. If further information is required, email the Library and Archives at centre.liaison.centre@bac-lac.gc.ca or call 819-934-7519.


1 The Department of Justice's web site includes a copy of the Consolidated Statutes of Canada (1985) which contain most acts: http://laws.justice.gc.ca [back]

2 These documents may be consulted on the Treasury Board web site, the CIO sub site or the general Government of Canada site :www.tbs-sct.gc.ca, www.cio-dpi.gc.ca, www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/cio-dpi/default.asp [back]