E-mail laws force IT to brush up on legals

IT managers are being forced to brush up on their legal prowess to comply with more than half a dozen separate pieces of legislation on the management and archiving of e-mail.

Under legislation ranging from the Corporations Act to the Trade Practices Act, organisations have to archive and maintain access to all electronic communications over time periods ranging from seven years to 100 years.

IBM integrator Synergy Plus CEO, Bill Votsaris, said in some instances under the Commonwealth Electronic Records Act, e-mail has be to kept up to 100 years for record keeping purposes.

The extraordinary 100-year rule specifically applies to land purchases while communications between public companies and their shareholders needs to be retrievable for 10 years.

Legal requirements also extend to educational institutions which are obligated to keep student records for up to 30 years.

While document management providers and storage vendors are quick to warn against the dangers of poor record keeping for their own spin, the reality is organisations have to comply and the job of making this happen rests with the IT manager.

"With these strict new laws, e-mail management and archiving can no longer be safely left in the control of users; rules and systems have to be implemented by the IT manager and controlled centrally," Votsaris said.

Other legislation includes the Archives Act, which applies to commonwealth records, tax laws which states records must be kept for seven years, and the Financial Services Reform Act.

And this is without even mentioning the threat of common law litigation, which requires organisations to have discovery processes in place. Maintaining the integrity of evidence such as e-mail is critical to the outcome of any case resting on the strengths and weaknesses of a company's document retention policies.

An IBM whitepaper on Document Retention in the Digital Age advises companies to retain documents for 12 years and to consider the impact of retaining a document in electronic format as the question of authenticity of signatures can arise.

Finally, there is the Evidence Act and if an organisation does end up in court it needs to have a clear audit trail suitable for legal proceedings. "Records and documents are usually subject to constant changes, updates and amendments. Not only should changes be recorded, but you should also be able to track and document those changes," the whitepaper warns.

Votsaris claims the cost of installing an enterprise-wide e-mail management and archiving solution in-house is prohibitive, costing around $300,000 on software licences plus months of development.

Synergy offers an out-of-the box package for mid-sized organisations for $55,000 that can be installed in a few weeks.

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