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Don't Delete This
Friday, Feb. 25, 2011
Old-fashioned government record keeping relied on paper, microfilm, and a basement or vault to store documents. Access was cumbersome and expensive, something reserved for investigative reporters or lawyers.
Electronic record keeping allows instant access, in some cases “real time” access to the decisions being made on behalf of the public. Although these electronic records – emails, voice messages, tweets, audio or video recordings – are subject to public records laws, not everyone complies.
The latest example of selective retention of public documents involves a University of Iowa athletic official who advised his colleagues to “delete this email after reading it.” The email in question involved internal discussions about the hospitalization of athletes after a strenuous workout, and how best to handle media inquiries.
Iowa’s State Records Commission only covers certain “formal” documents be saved for specific amounts of time. The interpretation varies widely within state agencies. The Cedar Rapids city council uses its own discretion. The governor keeps everything. “It requires a significant amount of storage, but we want to have those for transparency,” says the governor’s spokesman.
To retrieve deleted documents from the University of Iowa costs a minimum of $75 for computer services, and $75 per hour after that. Fees such as these are hardly accessible or affordable.
Transparency is linked to public trust. Kathleen Richardson of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council says it best, “We live in a time when people are increasingly suspicious of government employees. The more accountability the better.”
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