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Email messages are State records

Email messages sent and received in the course of official business are State records under the State Records Act 1998 (the Act). This includes messages sent and received by Ministers in the course of their official duties. It also includes messages relating to any aspect of official (government) business coming from private email accounts.

The Act defines a record as ‘any document or other source of information compiled, recorded or stored in written form or on film, or by electronic process, or in any other manner or by any other means’ (s.3).

The Act goes on to define a State record as ‘any record made or received by any person in the course of the exercise of official functions in a public office, or for any purpose of a public office, or for the use of a public office’ (s.3).

The Act purposely uses a broad definition for what constitutes a record. This ensures that different formats that come into use as a result of new technologies are governed by the Act.

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Email messages must be captured and kept

NSW public offices, including Ministers, should have policies and procedures in place to ensure that the records they create and receive, in whatever format, are managed appropriately.

Public offices should establish policies and procedures to define:

  • which email messages need to be captured as records
  • which users are responsible for capturing records from email systems and when
  • how users should capture records of email transactions (e.g. which system/s to use).

in some cases, email messages may be generated and captured automatically within a business system as part of a work process.

In other cases, users may capture email messages in their organisation's recordkeeping system (e.g. EDRMS).

Users need to understand their responsibilities for managing email

If the answer to any of the following questions is 'yes', the email message is a business record and must be managed appropriately:

Does it approve or authorise actions?               
Is it a formal communication between staff relating to work?  
Does it signify a policy change or development?  
Does it commit the organisation to an arrangement or to a business deal?  
Does it contain advice, provide guidance or constitute formal communications with people inside or outside the organisation?  
Am I required to act upon it?  
Is it external correspondence I have received relating to work?  
Is it something that I have sent for a business purpose?  
Is it something I have used at work to make a decision?  
If I left this job tomorrow, would my successor need the information it contains to continue with this matter?  
Is the matter to which the message relates one which may be reviewed or audited later?  


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How long do email messages need to be kept?

There is no blanket retention period for email messages. Like all records, their retention period will be determined by the business activities and transactions they document rather than their format.

Email messages need to be managed as business records when they are part of a business process. It is the nature of the business or activity that they relate to that would determine how they are managed and how long they are retained.

There are of course many email messages that do not need to be retained for long, such as simple communications about office events, non-business or personal messages, spam etc.

Published January 2009. Revised July 2017 / November 2017 

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