The defensible deletion of government email

PURPOSE - Two rival approaches to email have emerged from information governance thought: the defensible deletion approach, in which emails are routinely deleted from email accounts after a set period of time; and the Capstone approach, in which the email accounts of important government officials are selected for permanent preservation. This paper aims to assess the extent to which the defensible deletion approach, when used in conjunction with efforts to move important emails into corporate records systems, will meet the needs of originating government departments and of wider society. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH - The paper forms the first stage of a realist evaluation of policy towards UK government email. FINDINGS - The explanation advanced in this paper predicts that the routine deletion of email from email accounts will work for government departments even where business email is inconsistently or haphazardly captured into records systems, provided officials have access to their own emails for a long enough period to satisfy their individual operational requirements. However the routine deletion of email from email accounts will work for wider society only if and when business email is consistently captured into other systems. ORIGINALITY/VALUE - The paper looks at the policy of The National Archives (TNA) towards UK government email and maps it against the approaches present in records management and information governance thought. It argues that TNA’s policy is best characterised as a defensible deletion approach. The paper proposes a realist explanation as to how defensible deletion policies towards email work in a government context.