Are President Trump’s Tweets Records? #M-19-21

One of the challenges as technology constantly changes is that M-19-21 compliance is not just a “simple” matter of making sure every paper record is converted to a digital record, complete with all the necessary metadata, as challenging as that might be. Because before even considering the digitization and metadata requirements of M-19-21, agencies still need to determine what is a permanent record and what is just a temporary information artifact:

Not all records possess permanent archival value. NARA estimates that less than five percent (5%) of records across the Federal Government require permanent retention and should be transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives. NARA determines that most federal records have temporary value and authorizes agencies to destroy them when they are no longer needed for agency business needs, or when legal or public accountability interests have generally expired.  ( White Paper on The Capstone Approach and Capstone GRS, NARA, 2015)

But life as a records manager responsible for M-19-21 compliance is even more complicated than just traditional paper and electronic documents and determining which are records and which are not.

What about information assets that aren’t traditional “documents?” Are they records or just “information” necessary to the conduct of the agency’s business? Or both?

Clearly emails are part of the mix. Email often meets the definition of a federal record as provided in the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C., § 3301), which includes: “… all traditional forms of records, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information created, manipulated, communicated, or stored in digital or electronic form.”

Theoretically, the email management and archiving question should be a moot one at this point, since the original M-12-18 had the following requirement, and M-19-21 did not modify it.

December 31, 2016, Federal agencies must manage all email records in an electronic format. Email records must be retained in an appropriate electronic system that supports records management and litigation requirements (which may include preservation-inplace models), including the capability to identify, retrieve, and retain the records for as long as they are needed.

But the life of a records manager is even MORE complicated than just dealing with documents and email.

M-19-21 applies to all records, and the definition of a “record” is independent of the media upon which it is created or delivered or stored. So — wait for it — social media can be a “record” if the If the answers to any of the above questions are yes:

  • Does it contain evidence of an agency’s policies, business, or mission?
  • Is the information only available on the social media site?
  • Does the agency use the tool to convey official agency information?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

A quick look at the headlines this week illustrates how complex this question can be.

Consider this tweet:

Tweet that may need to meet M-19-21 compliance

Are tweets official presidential records under the law? It would appear yes.

Are deletions or alterations of tweets legal? It would appear that at a minimum, records of an original tweet would need to be kept, although I am not sure where or how this might occur.

The compliance milestones for digital and paper records in M-19-21 are clear:

1.1 – By 2019, Federal agencies will manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format.
1.2 – By 2022, Federal agencies will manage all permanent records in an electronic format and with appropriate metadata.
1.3 – By 2022, Federal agencies will manage all temporary records in an electronic format or store them in commercial records storage facilities.
1.4 – Federal agencies will maintain robust records management programs that comply with the Federal Records Act and its regulations.

But M-19-21 readiness is more than that. It is an important framework for thinking about how records management needs to adapt to the demands of digitally-driven disruption. It is a framework for thinking about how Digital Government will work.

Not every record is a document. And vice versa. I think all of this means that SAORMs need to view M-19-21 not just as a compliance box to be checked, but as a call for technology modernization. Because in an era of rising information volume and complexity — a rising tide of information chaos — the old approaches won’t work.

#NARACompliance #M-19-21