Urgent: save those emails

Do we need to preserve Vice-Chancellors’ emails?

A diverting essay in Inside Higher Ed has a call for the preservation of presidential email:
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…boards of trustees should act – with a sense of urgency. They might begin by appointing a task force, composed of professional historians, lawyers, board members, and administrators, to recommend procedures for an independent review of the correspondence of presidents and provosts. Although a mandate that all communications should reside in library archives might have a chilling effect on email exchanges and boost the telephone bills of academic leaders, it should be considered as well. Equally important, boards of trustees should set aside funds for the review – and for cataloging presidential and provostial papers having just completed a history of Cornell from 1940 to the present, co-authored with my colleague Isaac Kramnick, I can attest to the massive challenges posed by uncataloged collections, which contain millions of documents.

In addition to making possible more accurate institutional histories, complete and accessible presidential “papers” might well help sitting presidents facing tough decisions, by allowing them to understand what their predecessors considered, said and did in similar situations.

So should universities do this? And is it really as urgent as this essay suggests? I don’t think so. There is a strong case to be made for better records retention in universities but to focus exclusively on vice-chancellors’ or presidents’ emails would seem to me to be too narrow a take. And surely they get as much nonsense and spam as everyone else?

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ICO: private email accounts are subject to FOI

New regulatory joy from the Information Commissioner’s Office

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published some exciting new guidance making it clear that information held in private email accounts is subject to the Freedom of Information Act:

Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham said:

“It should not come as a surprise to public authorities to have the clarification that information held in private email accounts can be subject to Freedom of Information law if it relates to official business. This has always been the case – the Act covers all recorded information in any form.

“It came to light in September that this is a somewhat misunderstood aspect of the law and that further clarification was needed. That’s why we’ve issued new guidance today with two key aims – first, to give public authorities an authoritative steer on the factors that should be considered before deciding whether a search of private email accounts is necessary when responding to a request under the Act. Second, to set out the procedures that should generally be in place to respond to requests. Clearly, the need to search private email accounts should be a rare occurrence; therefore, we do not expect this advice to increase the burden on public authorities.”

Key points set out in the guidance include:

Where a public authority has decided that a relevant individual’s email account may include official information which falls within the scope of the request and is not held elsewhere, it will need to ask that individual to search their account.

Where people are asked to check private email accounts, there should be a record of the action taken. The public authority needs to be able to demonstrate, if required, that appropriate searches have taken place.

It is accepted that, in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to use private email for public authority business. There should be a policy which clearly states that in these cases an authority email address should be copied in to ensure the completeness of the authority’s records.

I hope that’s clear for everyone. Happy new year!

Changes in university email?

From the Chronicle: Are College E-Mail Addresses on the Way Out?

A report from Educause on IT issues in higher education suggests that provision of university email addresses for students may be a thing of the past.

It found, among other things, that in 2008 nearly 10 percent of associate, baccalaureate, and master’s institutions as well as 25 percent of doctoral institutions were considering putting an end to student e-mail addresses because so many students were already using personal e-mail accounts. That is a large shift from
typethe 1 to 2 percent of institutions that were considering this in 2004. The survey also highlighted findings from IT categories like networking and security, information systems, faculty and student computing, financing and management, and organizational structure and leadership.

Whilst there may be short term savings here, there are significant challenges in maintaining accurate lists for communication purposes but, as importantly, the ability to retain connections with alumni, through life-long email addresses, is greatly compromised.