Colorado Regulatory Purge: Deleting Emails, Erasing Public Record

The Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies will purge emails from approximately 600 state employees this week, erasing troves of public records. “If the record doesn’t exist anymore, that’s the end of the line.”
by Alex Burness, The Denver Post | October 31, 2019 AT 3:01 AM

(TNS) — Email inboxes are slated to be purged this week for hundreds of state employees, The Denver Post has learned — a move that promises to eliminate access to government records that would otherwise be public.

The impacted employees work for the Department of Regulatory Agencies, divisions of which regulate key industries in Colorado, including insurance, electric utilities, banks, real estate and telecommunications.

The department’s roughly 600 employees have been notified several times since August about the coming purge, which begins Friday, spokeswoman Jillian Sarmo said.

Brandi Simmons, spokeswoman for the state Office of Information Technology, said she wasn’t sure whether other state agencies have instituted or will institute similar policies, telling The Post it would have to file a Colorado Open Records Act request.

But The Post has confirmed at least one other state department — the roughly 6,200-employee Department of Corrections — recently changed its policy to retain emails for 30 days. Spokeswoman Annie Skinner said emails of particular importance can be kept for longer.

As was the case for the DOC, the state IT office provided employees of the Department of Regulatory Agencies the option of putting valued emails in a “do not delete” folder. Employees have been instructed to preserve any “business critical” emails, including those concerning pending litigation or existing open records requests.

But beyond those exceptions, every department email older than 60 days will vanish from inboxes and thereby vanish from the public record.

The deletion of electronic records already is a major problem for those seeking information from government agencies, according to a recent report for the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. It concluded that open records laws here have not kept up with changes in technology.

“If the record doesn’t exist anymore, that’s the end of the line,” author Jill Beathard told The Post for a story on that report. “They don’t have it, and that’s it. That kind of thwarts the purpose of CORA.”

Sarmo said the email purge is part of an effort to make department emails more easily searchable.

“After a review of our current open records policy, the determination was made that additional structure around email retention for the purposes of meeting statutory and other legal requirements was needed,” Sarmo emailed. “The intention of the policy is to allow the department to increase responsiveness to requests for information, whether they be from media, partners, or other stakeholders.”

Colorado law gives state departments broad discretion in crafting their policies for keeping or deleting the recorded history of public business they conduct. Simmons said these policies are written on a department-by-department basis.

Sarmo said the Department of Regulatory Agencies made the decision to execute a mass-deletion after seeking the input of the department’s directors.

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