Treat state e-mail the same as other public documents
The state deletes all of its e-mail every two months, making older messages immune from Freedom of Information requests.
THE vast majority of states treat e-mail like printed documents but are divided about which ones should be accessible through Freedom of Information requests. Gov. Linda Lingle allowed e-mails of Bob Awana when he was her chief of staff to be purged, as were the e-mails of Herman Frazier after his dismissal as the University of Hawaii athletics director. In this age, e-mail should not be treated differently from other written material in public offices.
When the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information request for calendars and e-mails from Awana's government e-mail account in February, the governor's office said the e-mail had been routinely purged. Russell Pang, her chief of media relations, has said that state government e-mail records are deleted every two months.
After the Star-Bulletin filed a similar request regarding state payments for travel to this year's Sugar Bowl, UH complied, releasing hundreds of pages of e-mails and documents. However, university attorneys said Frazier's e-mails no longer exist.
Today's technology is forcing the issue to be considered across the country. A Michigan judge said this week that he would not seal text messages from January showing whether Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Christine Beatty, then his chief of staff, lied under oath in a police whistle-blower trial. Kilpatrick and Beatty were involved in an extra-marital affair.
Rajdatta Patkar of India was sentenced last year to a year in prison for trying to blackmail Awana by e-mail. Pamela Byrne, Patkar's lawyer, said she discovered e-mails indicating that two women served as escorts for Awana and a Hawaii businessman on an official state trip by Lingle to the Philippines.
The notion that e-mails need to be deleted every two months to keep from clogging a computer's hard drive is absurd, even though State Archivist Susan Shaner claims there is simply too much e-mail to save it all. A North Carolina panel studying that state's e-mail policy has recommended that e-mail messages be stored for at least five years and has endorsed an archive system that would be capable of storing them even longer.
Corporations with archiving systems store hundreds of millions of e-mails for years, according to William Tolson, director of legal solutions for California-based Mimos Systems Inc. "If companies can do it, why can't the government?" he asked the AP.
State Sen. Les Ihara points out that modern technology allows inexpensive storage of e-mails and other computer files. Ihara should follow through with legislation requiring state e-mails to be stored for at least five years.
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