E-Mail/Electronic Records Guidelines

The Wisconsin Public Records Statute has been revised to accommodate evolving technology. In response, the Wisconsin Department of Administration has been attempting to address records management and public records issues; in particular, those issues having to do with email and electronic records.

Email

According to Wisconsin Statutes 16.971, "The department (of administration) shall, in cooperation with agencies, establish policies, procedures and planning processes, for the administration of information technology services, which executive branch agencies shall follow. The policies, procedures and processes shall address the needs of agencies to carry out their functions."

In 1997, the DOA appointed a committee of administrators, records officers, and archivists to study and make recommendations regarding the use of email by state agencies. In November of that year, the committee released its conclusions in a document entitled; "Statewide Enterprise E-Mail Policy & Guidance." This document provides statewide policy on the nature of email with regards to public records, the open records law, and records retention and disposition. The document also provides suggested guidelines that may be used by agencies to identify the ownership of email, work rules governing the use of email, the life cycle management of information stored as email, and commonly asked questions and answers to employees of state agencies who use email.

While each institution in the State of Wisconsin is free to devise its own email policies (as long as it falls within state statutes), it may be more cost effective for the University of Wisconsin-Stout to adopt the email guidelines as developed by the DOA. These guidelines can be found at the DOA's Bureau of Technology Policy and Planning: Wisconsin Internet & E-Mail Usage Policy It is important to emphasize to university employees that records generated through email are subject to the same laws that regulate paper, microform, and other forms of government records.

Electronic Records

In December 1998 the DOA appointed a team to draft a rule to comply with the legislature's request (state statute 16.61, see attachment) to establish "qualitative standards for the storage of public records in electronic format and for copies of public records stored in electronic format." The objective of the proposed rule is to ensure that the quality of public records in electronic format is maintained and that public records in electronic format remain accessible for the designated retention period. The team, consisting of staff and management from forms, records, information and archiving functions, created the following definitions:

ELECTRONIC FORMAT includes information created, generated, transmitted or stored in digital form or analog form.

PUBLIC RECORDS means all books, papers, maps, photographs, films, recordings, optical disks, electronically formatted documents or other documents or other documentary materials; regardless of physical form or characteristics; made or received by any state agency to its officers or employees in connection with the transaction of public business.

LIFE CYCLE means all phases of a record's existence: design, creation, active use, preservation and management through to disposition (preservation or destruction).


To meet minimum state standards the group recommends that state and local agencies maintaining public records in electronic format meet the following general provisions:

  1. Comply with the appropriate legal and administrative requirements for record keeping.
  2. Ensure that electronic records are accessible, accurate, authentic, reliable, legible, and readable throughout the record life cycle.
  3. Document policies, assign responsibilities, and develop appropriate formal mechanisms for creating and maintaining public records throughout the record life cycle.

They further recommend that state and local agencies maintaining any public records exclusively in electronic format shall do the following for those records:

  1. Develop information systems that accurately reproduce the records they create and maintain.
  2. Identify and document records created by information systems.
  3. Document authorization for the creation and modification of electronic records and, where required, ensure that only authorized persons create or modify the records.
  4. Design and maintain information systems so that these systems can provide the official record copy for those business functions accomplished by the system.
  5. Develop and maintain information systems that maintain accurate links to transactions supporting the records created where these links are essential to the meaning of the record.
  6. Information systems used to maintain public records shall be able to:
    1. Produce electronic records that continue to reflect their meaning throughout the records' life cycle.
    2. Delete electronic records created.
    3. Export records to other systems without loss of information.
    4. Output record content, structure and context.
    5. Allow records to be masked to exclude confidential or exclude confidential or exempt information.

Recommendations

Email

To minimize the possibility of litigation and to achieve compliance with Wisconsin Statute 16.61, all faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Stout should be made aware of the DOA's guidelines regarding email. To prevent possible loss, it may be advisable for paper copies or important records to be retained by office of origin.

Electronic Records

Units on campus maintaining public records exclusively in electronic format should be identified and informed of the laws and regulations governing the use and retention of those records. Efforts should be made to ensure that technologically these records can be preserved, maintained, and retrieved.

General Guidelines for UW-Stout

Documented decisions using electronic, digital format affecting divisional or college level policy should be preserved. This may result in converting electronic records to printed documentation for archival retention purposes.

The UW-Stout Archives housed in the University Library shall serve as the official public records retention unit.

Each divisional unit (Chancellor, Provost, Deans, Directors) should designate responsibility for preservation and disposition of public records into the University Archives.

For information on length of records retention or legal issues contact; Robin Melland 715/232-2300 mellandr@uwstout.edu

For information on technological issues contact; Robin Melland.