Email Retention Guidance and Policies


Email systems store and deliver text messages and attachments from one computer user to another.

Email messages are electronic documents created and sent or received by a computer system. Email messages are similar to other forms of communicated messages, such as correspondence, memoranda, and circular letters. An email message is a record created or received by an agency. Whether the email serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of an agency is the deciding factor as to its status as a record.

What email should be kept and how long?

Email should not be given any special treatment because in essence it is just like any other form of written correspondence. The only differentiating quality between email and paper correspondence is the medium or mode of delivery. Email itself is not considered a record series or category. It is a means of transmission of messages or information. Like paper or microfilm, email is the medium by which this type of record is transmitted.

The criteria for determining the retention and disposition of email are whether the record is non-permanent or permanent. Email messages that have significant administrative, legal, fiscal, and/or historical value should be designated as permanet records.

Records with permanent value include but are not limited to the following:

  1. documentation of State policy (eg. laws, rules, and court decisions)
  2. documentation of the policy process (eg. policy directives, minutes of meetings, transcripts of selected hearings)
  3. protection of vital public information (eg. births, deaths, marriages and reports).

Recommendations re: email retention periods

  • Personal email: Delete immediately
  • Non-record email: Delete immediately
  • Non-permanent email: Delete after a certain period of time, per approved records retention schedule
  • Permanent email: Transfer to Archives in accordance with Archives' rules and regulations in COMAR 14.18.02

Non-permanent emails serve to convey information of temporary importance in lieu of oral communication. They include but are not limited to: routine correspondence, activity reports, and weekly fiscal reports. Permanent documents are records that are deemed to have lasting administrative, legal, fiscal and/or historical value beyond the life of the creator. These may include but are not limited to: meeting minutes, policy statements, and end of year reports.

Who should save email and how?

Some feel the individual who sends an email message should maintain a record copy of the message. However, the varied use and wide distribution of email may result in many exceptions to this rule that will have to be dealt with internally. There are clearly instances when the recipient should maintain the record.

After a specified period of time in the employees inboxes, messages of permanent value should be transferred to other boxes or designated files on the agency's server, in accordance with retention requirements. Email that is designated as permanent should be saved to an online storage folder or permanent near-line storage periphery. Permanent emails must be periodically transferred to the archives in accordance with Archives' rules and regulations in COMAR 14.18.02.

In order to aid in the managing of the email system, the creator should provide descriptive subject lines. This not only enhances the email but also makes retention much easier.

The system should be maintained in a format that preserves contextual information and that facilitates retrieval and access. The system should allow for periodic deletion of non-permanent messages as well as transfer of permanent messages to a central repository. Both permanent and non-permanent records should be stored in a logical filing system.

The system administrator and records management officer of the agency should manage the email system and transfer to the Archives, per retention schedule, file folders containing saved permanent email in accordance with Archives' rules and regulations in COMAR 14.18.02

This web site is provided as a courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. As you develop your records management program, you should consult with the Records Management Division of the Department of General Services and your staff counsel.

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