Today is Electronic Records Day, a day where we raise awareness about the role electronic records play in public business and what the State Archives is doing to help public employees manage and preserve important electronic records. See past Electronic Records Day posts here and here.
Many public employees use their personal mobile devices to conduct public business. Mobile devices give people the flexibility to work from different locations and interact with the public in new ways. But just because it’s your phone or tablet doesn’t mean those texts, tweets, and Facebook posts aren’t public records.
One thing we all know about public records—they can be very public. Unless restricted by statute, state or federal, this means that records conducted in the course of public business can be inspected. Even if a public records contains both confidential and non-confidential information, the confidential information must be redacted while the non-confidential is made available.
Whether carved in stone or saved to the cloud, any document, “regardless of form or characteristics, made or received […] in connection with the transaction of public business” is a public record (G.S. 132-1). This statutory definition has been interpreted to include emails, texts, voicemail, tweets, Facebook status updates, Instagram posts, the public’s comments on posts and status updates, Pinterest pins , Vines, etc.
All of these types of public records, as public records, are subject to records retention schedules and thus require active management. While mobile devices have made working away from the office easier, the new types of records created on or with those devices, such as text messages, necessitate new approaches to records management.
You should retain text messages, voicemails, and social-media posts as long as required by retention schedules, and you don’t have to do this on your device. You can always export to a work computer or a shared network drive. If any of your mobile-related records do not appear on your retention schedule, don’t destroy them until you’ve spoken with your records analyst. For more guidance on this topic, please see the electronic communications section of our website.
The same goes for any metadata, data (usually hidden) about the file itself, that may have been created by you or by your device. The state has new legislation on deleting metadata (see our post here). Metadata may include date/time stamps, geolocation information, and camera settings data.
There are ways to get all of this information off your mobile device, so make sure when you’re transferring data, that you’re transferring all of it, including the metadata. Keep this in mind when you’re exporting files and take a look at our guidance on forwarding texts.
For example, when you send your iPhone text messages to an email account, are the names of those on the conversation included? What about the dates and times each text was sent? If not, you’re missing important metadata—and metadata is a public record. The same goes for voicemail.
Mobile technology has evolved to promote and enhance usage and interaction with social media. Social media itself has become an important tool to reach the public as it allows for real-time interaction, whether that’s to disseminate important information or to document events. We’re here to help you navigate how the public records law relates to the records you create. Check out our blog post for more information on setting up and managing your social media accounts.
The State Archives and the State Library have a robust state agency web archiving and social media archiving program. For more information and to see more, visit our Social Media Archives.
The program is only as good as the content we know if being produced. If we’re not collecting your social media, don’t delete those posts and tweets just yet; please contact us with your social media accounts to ensure that we are archiving your agency content.