Information Management Protocol - Use of Public Folders in the Email Solution

Issue

Public folders currently contain more than five terabytes (5 TB) of information with minimal or no active management. Current practices related to public folders are not compliant with information management (IM) policy requirements and do not support efficient and effective information management within departments. Government of Canada (GC) institutions and employees need clarification of their roles and responsibilities regarding the information they create and share in public folders.

Note: In this document, “employee” refers to anyone working for the GC, including casual employees, temporary help, consultants, and contractors.

Context

Public folders are mostly used as a collaboration solution for sharing generic email accounts, messages, calendars, contacts, archives, etc. when other tools do not exist. The GC is moving towards enterprise approaches for IM and public folders cannot meet the functional requirements for effective enterprise collaboration nor do they meet recordkeeping requirements for effective information management.

In addition, public folder practices increase the risks related to poor information management, access to information or privacy requests, and legal discovery.

The principles of sound IM, access to information, privacy, and security management apply to all forms of information created and acquired by, or used and retained within the GC. The vast majority of information in public folders is transitory. As such, the information should be deleted as soon as it is no longer required.

In accordance with the Policy on Information Management, the Policy on Access to Information and the Policy on Privacy Protection, decisions made by public servants must be properly documented, and they must be accessible and protected, in accordance with the Access to Information Act, Privacy Act and Policy on Government Security.

Guidance to Institutions

  1. Public folders should be treated the same as email archives. Departments therefore should discontinue the use of public folders.
  2. Departments that do not currently use public folders must not adopt public folders as a solution for collaboration activities.
  3. In order to eliminate public folders, departments should develop and implement a cleanup strategy for legacy information that ensures appropriate recordkeeping practices are applied. At a minimum, this includes:
    • Ensuring that no new public folders are created or information added to existing public folders.
    • Transferring information of business value to a corporate repository; and
    • Deleting transitory information as soon as possible.
  4. On an exceptional basis only, where program or service delivery depends on the use of public folders, the department should develop a plan to identify and implement alternative solutions. Throughout this transition process, the department should ensure that documented practices are in place and support accountability and effective IM.
  5. Departments should leverage existing enterprise or departmental tools for collaboration and information sharing (i.e. GCconnex, GCpedia).
  6. When a request is received under the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act, an exact and complete copy of all responsive email messages and attachments must be provided to the Access to Information and Privacy Office.

    Any information, including transitory messages, residing in public folders that has not been disposed of before a request is received, and that is pertinent to the request, falls under legislation and must be treated as any other document and processed as part of the request.

    • It is an offence under the section 67.1 Access to Information Act to obstruct the right of access by destroying records in anticipation of a request for access under the legislation or during the processing of such a request.

    Once the Access to Information and Privacy Office has received an exact and complete copy of all messages and attachments responsive to a request under the Access to Information Act or Privacy Act, the public folder email messages and attachments may continue to be managed according to their normal life cycle.

Guidance to Employees

  1. Employees are responsible for managing information they create or share, via public folders, including email messages and attachments.
  2. In accordance with the Directive on Recordkeeping, employees must identify and safeguard public folder email messages and attachments of business value that have been created, collected, and/or stored during the course of their work. They must also identify and dispose of transitory email messages and attachments.
  3. Employees must also transfer email messages and attachments containing information of business value to a corporate repository, such as GCDocs or equivalent, as soon as possible.
    • Information of business value may include:
      • meeting minutes (where that information is not already captured in the corporate repository);
      • email messages that document a decision; and
      • interactions between clients, vendors, or partners.
  4. Employees should regularly delete transitory information.
    • Examples of transitory email messages may include:
      • Messages that are copies of information used only for convenience of reference and not as the official record;
      • Informal messages that are not required as evidence in the development of a document;
      • Messages forwarding an attachment that is saved in the corporate repository;
      • Messages that are duplicate copies of information; and
      • Messages received as part of a distribution list or received from a listserv or other Internet sources, and used solely for convenience of reference.
    • Transitory messages should be deleted as soon as the information is no longer of use.
  5. Strategies used for email cleanup may also be applied to the cleanup of public folders.

Additional Guidance

For more information on information management, please consult the Guideline for Employees of the Government of Canada: Information Management (IM) Basics.

Employees should consult with their manager when they have questions regarding managing their information.

Further Information

Information Management Division
Chief Information Officer Branch
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
8th Floor, 270 Albert Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0R5

Email: im-gi@tbs-sct.gc.ca
Toll-free: 1-877-636-0656
Fax: 613-946-9342
TTY: 613-957-9090 (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat)

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