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Bloomberg Administration Had Plan to Delete City Emails

By James Fanelli | March 10, 2015 7:34am
 The Bloomberg administration had planned to implement policy that would delete the emails of certain agencies' workers after 90 days, but then scrapped the plan.
The Bloomberg administration had planned to implement policy that would delete the emails of certain agencies' workers after 90 days, but then scrapped the plan.
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NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration was working on a data-dump policy during its final two years to automatically delete emails from rank-and-file workers at 14 agencies  — but the plan was ultimately shelved, DNAinfo New York has learned.

A city Law Department document obtained by DNAinfo shows that the agency and the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications drafted a policy in 2012 in which most emails in a city worker's inbox and sent folders would be erased after three months.

However, the de Blasio administration told DNAinfo New York the previous mayor's team ended up not implementing the proposal. A City Hall official added that the city does not have a citywide auto-delete policy and instead archives emails.

The Bloomberg-era proposal would have affected the emails of workers at the Law Department, the Administration for Children's Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Office of Management and Budget, the Human Resources Administration, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Buildings Department, the Finance Department, the Sanitation Department, the Parks Department, the Correction Department, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Fire Department and the Housing Authority. 

Entitled "Law and Technology: Email Retention Policy; Email Searches For FOIL & Case Management Systems," the document was discussed at a March 14, 2012, meeting between the Law Department general counsel and chief information officer.

The document was later distributed to top brass at various city agencies during presentations on retaining emails and the impact of potential litigation.

The document, which contains a series of printed slides explaining the deletion policy, says that the 14 agencies would all be hosted on DOITT's Exchange email servers by spring 2013 — and the "eventual policy" would be to delete their rank-and-file workers' messages after 90 days.

If the workers deemed an email important, they would have to move it to a protected folder, the document says.

One slide with the headline "What happens to my email when my mailbox moves to DOITT Exchange 2010? Eventual policy" explains that "most users will eventually be subject to auto-deletion of email left in Inbox, Sent, or subfolders thereof after 90 days."

"Most users will eventually have 90 days to affirmatively move 'important' email out of Inbox & Sent to other folders they've defined," the slide adds. "Treats leaving an email in Inbox or Sent after 90 days as implicit acknowledgement that it's of only 'transitory' importance."

The city isn't the only one mulling how to retain civil servants' emails.

Capital New York reported on Feb. 25 that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration had recently fully implemented a policy that automatically deletes the emails of rank-and-file state workers after 90 days. Good government groups have warned the policy could destroy key records and lessen transparency.

DNAinfo previously wrote about the Bloomberg administration considering ways to preserve emails and the cost of retention.

The city Law Department's document discusses the challenge of meeting the obligation of retaining thousands of workers' emails — which the City Charter considers public records — while working within the constraints of storage space and administrative time.

The Law Department considered several options for retaining email before settling on the auto-delete plan, according to the document.

One was to cap the storage space on workers' mailboxes or on email age. But the Law Department concluded that when accounts neared their maximum space, users tended to delete emails with the largest attachments rather than ones that were unnecessary.

Another policy that was nixed was having city workers' emails organized into 10 subject folders. But the Law Department concluded users want to organize their own email and hate having it categorized in a pre-ordained way, the document says.  

The proposal to auto-delete emails had exceptions. Agencies could identify the emails of certain city employees — such as ones who held managerial or commissioner-level positions — that should be saved for longer lengths of time.

The Law Department document also outlined how agencies should save the emails of workers who might become the subject of potential litigation or Freedom of Information Law requests. 

While the Law Department and DOITT held presentations with various agencies about the policies, the Bloomberg administration ultimately decided to scrub the auto-delete proposal, according to the de Blasio administration.

A City Hall official told DNAinfo that under the city's current policy, emails hosted by DOITT are archived after 90 days and set on a retention plan.