reducing risk in communications archives


Reducing risk in communications archives: Hillary's emails aren't the half of it

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices are under scrutiny, and email archiving is once again moving to the forefront of discussion as the FBI determines the risks and impacts of mishandling government-related communications.  It's worth remembering, however, that email is just one piece of a march larger puzzle.

These days, new communications technologies mean email now represents less than 50 percent of communications. However, few government agency IT managers are aware that, along with email, they must also archive instant messages, text messages, agency blogs/comments and agency LinkedIn and Facebook communications, making once clearly defined retention rules murky and difficult to apply.

Before IT managers can attempt to set and implement data archiving protocols, they must be aware of and follow five best practices:

Know where the servers are located. It is the IT manager’s responsibility in any organization or government agency to be aware of all technology investments and assets. This makes it easier for IT departments to access and keep track of information when regulators, Congress or the courts request it. From there, government agencies can create and reinforce more effective policies. This knowledge also help IT departments identify whether communications are being sent and received from private versus government servers.

It’s not the platform, it’s the content. Contrary to popular belief, the issues government agencies face surrounding data archiving have little to do with the communication channel. Whether government data is sent by email or instant messaging is irrelevant, as long as the method of communication adheres to government regulations. Still, agencies need to have policies and rules in place to capture messages across all communication channels. This can be difficult or impossible when offices are using messaging technologies that range from DOS prompts to Skype.

Upgrade legacy archiving technologies. In many cases, government agencies lack the latest (or any) technology to be able to quickly retrieve communications exchanges. Automation can help agencies archive messages quickly, efficiently and securely. However, the ability to search not only keywords, but also context, is essential -- it gives users a more accurate way to search for specific content and provides more context around conversations. These tools can save days or weeks of time spent piecing together conversation threads across different communication channels in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, or determining if the data was captured and managed correctly.

Understand the distinction between personal and government data.  An email may start out as simply, “Free for golf this weekend?” But 15 replies later, it might turn into a discussion about a current government project. Understanding the distinction between personal and agency information is necessary to prevent legal repercussions later. Context takes a primary role here as automated tools can capture and sort information. Government agencies need to remove the gray area regarding archiving of all communications and clearly educate their workers about archiving regulations. Government agencies should also have a retention policy in place that is reviewed annually and that clearly articulates archiving responsibilities and practices.

Implement an archiving system with security. Lastly, an archiving system’s security is crucial to safeguard government data. Protecting sensitive agency information with established and accepted levels of technology provides additional layers of security to limit unauthorized access to information and protect classified data.

Without implementing and enforcing archiving policies in government agencies, it is almost impossible for the IT department to locate and piece together relevant information from communications exchanges. Having the right systems in place and distinguishing communications exchanges are some of the important first steps agencies can take to prevent future mishaps.

About the Author

Bill Tolson is the director of product marketing at Actiance.


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