Public Records Regularly Deleted, Report Says

The idea of public access to government records may come with a new caveat in the information age: You can access them — as long as they haven’t been deleted.

Many U.S. government offices are intentionally deleting e-mails before anyone can read them, according to a new report just published by USA Today. The story quotes lawsuits suggesting some public officials, such as Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, have gone as far as ordering backups be destructed as well.

Any argument that e-mails are being deleted for space purposes is, of course, questionable. It doesn’t take much space or work to create a simple remote storage system that could easily retain the information.

So with the United States’ Freedom of Information Act, how could this be legal? Evidently, while laws requires government e-mails to be made available as public record, they also let the officials decide which e-mails should be turned over and which should be deleted.

Is it just me, or does that seem to defeat the most basic purpose of a public record? Would the idea of tossing out potentially relevant paper documents have flown a decade ago? Sounds a bit shifty.