Society of American Archivists
March 23, 2015
The Society of American Archivists (SAA) notes with concern the practice of many elected and appointed government officials of using unofficial, non-government email accounts for the conduct of public business.
Recent press coverage of Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of a personal email account while serving as U.S. Secretary of State has again raised concerns among members of SAA. Archivists are the professionals who are entrusted to identify the essential evidence of our society and ensure its availability for use by students, teachers, policy makers, organizational leaders, historians, genealogists, and a wide range of individuals with information needs. Our work supports accountability, legal and fiscal needs, and the accessibility of the American record.
The practice of using personal email accounts has not been uncommon among elected and appointed officials, and it was and is permitted within federal law:
Since 2009 the National Archives and Records Administration’s regulations have stated that, "Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system." (36 CFR 1236.22)
In November 2014, following testimony by the Archivist of the United States before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that, "The National Archives discourages the use of private mail accounts to conduct Federal business, but understands that there are situations where such use does occur," Congress amended the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act to prohibit the use of private email accounts by government officials unless they copy or forward any such emails into their government account within 20 days. (See 44 USC 2911.)
SAA believes that the practice of using unofficial, non-government email accounts for the conduct of public business fails to meet the level of transparency that many believe the public should enjoy regarding the activities of government officials. We are encouraged by the 2014 amendments to the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act and support further efforts to strengthen this legislation to achieve the highest level of transparency possible, in keeping with the standards of an open and democratic government.