Fact or Fiction – Common Misconceptions About Public Records Archiving

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Every government organization implements record retention policies to stay transparent to their constituents on conducting their business. Although there are already public records archiving laws, most of the existing rules’ scopes became vague following the rise of new communication platforms. Hence, creating misconceptions and difficulties for state governments to implement these regulations. 

Accordingly, several state governments implement new rules and or amend policies for public records archiving, which includes retaining different new communication channels, such as mobile SMS, voice calls, Whatsapp chats, and even electronic mails. 

The Texas 944 text message law is an example of a policy that complies with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 2019 mandate. The mandate requires state governments and other public agencies to develop guidelines that will help them capture electronic records and store them in an accessible electronic format, allowing them to respond to public records request efficiently. Subsequently, the Texas 944 law adapts to new ways for public employees to communicate with their colleagues and constituents for accessible public records keeping. 

Moreover, retention policies under the Freedom of Information Act and most State Open Record Laws allow the public to access federal and state records, including employee e-mails, text messages, and voice calls, typically within six months from the date of the request.  

However, despite the creation of FOIA, the NARA 2019 mandate, and amendments of different state public records laws, several public offices can still stumble upon difficulties. Much of the misconceptions associated with public records archiving stem from concerns about the definite retention period for electronic documents such as mobile messages. As the NARA 2019 mandate states, government agencies can set their policies on storing communication records, including the retention period of such archives. 

As state governments and public agencies have been given the authority to implement their own sets of guidelines for public records archiving, most of them require mobile communication records to be stored for three to seven years. On the other hand, some states demand electronic documents to be stored for an indefinite time. 

Reading more on the policies, regulations, bills, and even mandates for public records retention laws can clarify confusion and misconceptions about the set of rules. This infographic of Telemessage discusses some of the common misconceptions about public records archiving.