- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on government transparency and New York’s policy for purging emails.

Aug. 17

One of the big problems government bodies have always had with retaining public information is having enough room to store it.

Paper takes up space. And after a while, it can take up a lot of space.

It’s why government bodies limit the amount of time that certain documents need to be stored, so that they don’t have to find a home for every piece of paper, no matter how irrelevant or out-of-date, that they generate.

But finding storage space for emails generated by and sent to government employees is not a problem for the state of New York. So it makes one wonder why the state is in such a hurry to destroy them.

Most of the state’s emails are on a system that has virtually unlimited space. Yet according to an article published last week in ProPublica - an independent, nonprofit investigative journalism organization - the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo automatically purges the emails of thousands of state employees, with limited exceptions, after a mere 90 days.

For a governor who ran for election on a platform of transparency, this is akin to painting over a window then covering it with plywood.

The general counsel of the state Office of Information Technology services, in a memo issued last year, said the emails were automatically being deleted in order to cut down on the “enormous amount of email data” generated by the state, according to the article.

But what they don’t say is why the state needs to cut down on it.

Each user of the state’s email system has about 50 gigabytes of space available for email storage. That’s a large amount of space. How large, you ask? OK. You know those cardboard boxes that bankers use to store their files in? Each of these boxes can store about 2,000 pieces of paper. Fifty gigabytes of computer space has the capacity to hold about 500 of those boxes, or the equivalent of 10 million pieces of paper. Per employee.

Does that sound like the state has a problem find a place to store emails?

Many government emails contain communication between public employees and between government employees and outside individuals that is subject to the state Freedom of Information Law. If there was no email, this correspondence would be on a piece of paper somewhere. Today, its mostly likely to be on an electronic file. With few exceptions for personal privacy and litigation, these records must be made available to the public through a FOIL request.

So what’s the big deal about the 90-day cut-off?

Public officials are given time to respond to FOIL requests, time to respond to appeals upon denial of requests, and time to produce the actual records. Even a simple FOIL request can take a couple of weeks or more.

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