Email Overload? U.Va. Addresses Challenges of Email Management and Security

November 29, 2012

Is there too much email in your in box? Managing the flood of email can be a time-consuming endeavor – as well as a real security challenge.

To help sort out the email dilemma, Madelyn Wessel, U.Va.’s associate general counsel, delivered a presentation to the Faculty Senate in early November to educate the faculty in the proper management and retention of University emails and to raise awareness of many issues arising out of cloud computing.

All records created at the University of Virginia are public records, including electronic files and emails. U.Va. is a state agency, and its offices and departments are obligated to follow the requirements of the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia, Chapter 7) for retention and disposition of records, she said.

Email has practically replaced print correspondence, most telephone conversations and many in-person meetings. It has become the primary method of transmitting documents, data and files as attachments. In addition, work emails are often transmitted throughout the day, from home, offices and cell phones, with no clear demarcation between professional and private life.

All of this activity generates lots and lots of records, she told the senate.

The absence of good record management of emails can have significant legal and practical implications, she warned. Records reflecting “casual” email “conversations” can take on a life of their own in a different context. Sorting through massive records in order to respond to a Freedom of Information Act or civil discovery request can require an extraordinary investment of time for both the faculty and legal staff.

Departments or individual faculty currently running their “own” email system are losing the benefits of University policy and technology efforts, including purging old records consistent with policy, Wessel said.

In short, it’s best to use the U.Va. email system. The University has consistently demonstrated its commitment to defend faculty privacy and academic freedom rights – and to protect University research, she said. Specific sections of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act enable U.Va. to accomplish this.

“Use of a personal email account to conduct University business – or the redirection of a University account to a personal email account – creates serious concerns for the privacy and security of sensitive data that may be found in your emails or attached documents,” Wessel said.

She explored several key issues related to email security – such as how the University uses the information it collects, the risks of locating U.Va. records outside the U.Va. system and U.Va.’s relationship with cloud service providers like Google Docs. Specifically, Information Technology Services and the Office of the Vice President and Chief Information Officer are working to negotiate cloud service agreements at a campus level that include appropriate protections of privacy and sensitive data so that faculty can use those services without concerns that arise under standard consumer licensing often downloaded from the Web.

Wessel recommended that U.Va. employees not forget about the “old-fashioned communication tools” of speaking to each other by phone or in person.

She also recommended that employees regularly pay attention to the U.Va. Records Management website. The records retention and disposition schedules on the site identify how long to retain records relating to various subjects or records series regardless of the format – that is, whether an email or Post-It note.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to manage the records created here at U.Va., especially email,” said University records officer Caroline Walters. “Many of the emails that faculty and staff receive daily do not need to be retained very long.

“In terms of retention, emails should be managed based upon the content or purpose, rather than the mere fact that it’s an email.”

Walters suggests there are real risks in keeping too much email, such as the cost of searching through thousands of emails to find needed information or actually hitting limits on email storage.

For those interested in learning more about how to manage the flood of email, Walters will teach a class on email management Dec. 13, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., in the Kaleidoscope Room in Newcomb Hall. The class is open to anyone, but registration is strongly recommended. More information can be found at the Record Managements website.

University Records Officer Caroline Walters' Email Management Top 10

10. Watch out for virus and phishing scams.

9. Use a clear subject heading.

8. Do not mix professional and personal.

7. Think, read – and think again – before hitting send.

6. Talk in person or call if dealing with a sensitive or personal issue.

5. You could get published – but not in a good way.

4. Check your “to” line to make sure your email is going to the right person.

3. Properly delete emails that could be a risk to the University as long as doing so complies with the state’s records retention policies.

2. Keep those emails that are vital to the University and your work.

1. Email does not manage itself. You need to actively manage it.

Media Contact

Robert Hull

Media Relations Associate Office of University Communications