Letter: Digital deluge may prompt illegal acts

The National Archives of Australia is following with interest, and occasional alarm, the development of technologies that help businesses manage the deluge of digital information that they send and receive on a daily basis. I refer to Stan Miastkowski's article "Make your e-mail disappear" in Computerworld, August 28, p8.

While it is tempting to use products that automate the destruction of our e-mail correspondence it is worth remembering that we all have business, accountability and community requirements to keep evidence of our activities. Without evidence we open ourselves to allegations that we have done the wrong thing. With evidence we have the means to prove that we have acted appropriately.

Of course we need encryption technologies to ensure that our e-mail communications and other electronic transactions are secure. But we also need to ensure that we can produce evidence of these activities over time that is accessible to those who need it. Managing messages that "hang around" need not be an onerous task - it can be as simple as designing and implementing effective electronic record-keeping systems.

And for representatives of those agencies of the commonwealth government who may read this letter and who may be thinking of purchasing such software, I have to point out that what the software does is illegal under the terms of the commonwealth's Archives Act of 1983. And this is what the National Archives would have to tell any court where a commonwealth agency or public servant was being questioned about destruction of such e-mail evidence!

Steve Stuckey

Acting director-general

National Archives of Australia

steves@naa.gov.au NAA


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