E-mail Scandal Drives Storage Best Practices Home

Poor e-mail retention policies can put companies at risk and land them in court.

January 18, 2008
By

Judy Mottl

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As the saga of whether the Bush administration properly saved or illegally deleted e-mail continues to unfold, experts are advising companies to review and confirm that corporate e-mail policies are not only in place but are meeting regulatory requirements.

"It's one thing to back up and archive e-mail, but it's a whole other thing to make sure it's there and you're able to retrieve it," said Matt Smith, president of LiveOffice, a provider of message managing and archiving services.

According to reports by the Associated Press and the Washington Post, the White House has allegedly been recycling e-mail backup tapes since 2003.

Investigators are questioning whether e-mail communications have been properly archived as required by federal statutes.

The AP reported that a congressional committee has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 15 about the alleged e-mail loss. White House Counsel Fred Fielding, White House Office of Administration Director Alan Swendiman, and United States Archivist Allen Weinstein are slated to appear.

The Post reported Friday that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) released a study Friday claiming that no e-mail from various White House offices, including those of the president and vice president, was saved for nearly 500 days between 2003 and 2005.

Calls by InternetNews.com to the White House press office and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were not returned by press time.

White House spokespeople have been quoted saying that no facts support the contention that the administration has destroyed e-mail or done anything improper in relation to retention.

Yet two private organizations, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive, have launched lawsuits in response to the e-mail retention issue.

Despite the scrutiny over the issue, many companies are not taking e-mail retention and archival seriously, Smith told InternetNews.com.

Although 43 percent of companies have an e-mail retention policy, only 12 percent have an automated archiving and compliance system in place, reported Osterman Research.

As a result, Smith said the lesson for private and public companies is clear: No time is better than the present to check that e-mails are properly saved, retained and retrievable if needed.

"The first priority is to get all the stakeholders involved and get a robust backup and archival architecture in place," he said.

Stakeholders include legal counsel, IT leaders, business executives as well as HR directors and compliance officers. Unfortunately, Smith said, companies are still viewing e-mail retention and storage as a cost-center operation -- and that's a bad approach.

"There are many advantages to a good e-mail retention and archival solution beyond being able to meet compliance requirements and produce e-mail during litigation," Smith noted. "It can also help companies provide continuity with customers and brand messaging."

But putting a good strategy in place is essential. The second critical step, testing and confirming that archiving is working, is often ignored, and that's where companies can get into trouble.

Smith recommended a quarterly review of the archives. He said a test can be as simple as just pulling a random e-mail sent by an employee.

"You'll be able to tell that it's there, that you can retrieve it, and if something has gone wrong with archival efforts, you can restore e-mail if you have a good backup process in place," he explained.

According to Smith, good e-mail archiving would include a 90-day backup with data housed in various locations and a real-time indexing retrieval system.

"All it takes is one inadvertent firewall setting change, and the archival system can shut down without an organization aware that it's happened," Smith said.

"By reviewing it consistently, you are assured it's up and working and that you're in compliance," he added.



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