There are two fundamental problems with electronic content archiving in the US Government:
- Government employees, particularly senior staff members, are largely in charge of what gets archived and what doesn’t, and what archived content is retained or deleted.
- Many government employees use their personal accounts (or, in some cases, their own servers) to conduct government business.
Here’s a simple proposal to address these problems:
- Every bit of information in emails, text messages, social media posts, files and all other content sources generated by government-owned devices, servers, cloud services and other platforms should be archived by an independent government entity, such as the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) or the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). This means that every government server automatically archives everything, without exception, and without advice from the employees whose content is archived.
- Every government employee should be required to agree to one of the following: a) all of their personal emails, text messages, social media posts, files and all other content they generate on personal devices (or personal servers) will be securely archived by an independent government entity; or b) if they opt not to submit to having personal content archived and are later found to have been using a personal device or personally managed platform to transact government business, they will pay a fine equal to the past five years of their gross income and will relinquish any government pension for which they might have been eligible.
- The independent entity that archives content will determine, at its sole discretion, what can safely be deleted from the archive. Things like spam, phishing emails, content that has no value as a record, and so forth, can be deleted based on policy established by NARA, the GAO or some other independent entity. However, the government employees whose information is archived cannot provide input or be consulted about the content that is retained or deleted. They should be able to access these records, but not provide input about what is retained or not.
- All content that is retained must be kept for a minimum of 30 years unless NARA or a court determines that a longer retention period is warranted.