Posted by: lsinrc | June 6, 2007

Keeping up with federal laws on storing school electronic communicaitons

In December federal law mandated that schools/organizations keep all digital communications and files produced by employees. An informal survey by a data management company finds many schools are not yet meeting the demands of the requirements. According to eSchool News online

CommVault says the results of its informal poll show a marked disconnect between school leaders’ awareness of the issues surrounding FRCP compliance and their preparedness for a lawsuit. By not appropriately managing their electronically stored information according to federal rules, administrators are exposing their districts to potentially costly legal action, the company says.

“The new federal rules represent an urgent call to action for educators and school information technology officers to understand how information that is sent and received on school-owned equipment might be used in litigation,” said Mike Ivanov, senior director and head of CommVault’s Archive Center of Excellence.

“The cost of litigation can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially draining public school districts of valuable education funds. To reduce the impact of such threats, school technology leaders need to become students of these new rules themselves and take stock of their eMail policies and existing technologies to ensure compliance,” Ivanov added.

To keep tabs on eMail, instant messages, and other digital communications produced by employees and students, school leaders should reevaluate their digital storage technologies and how they search through and retrieve information, he said.

“What makes it more challenging for schools is their budgets,” Ivanov said. “Budgets are so slim in the first place that it’s hard to carve out significant dollars.” Still, he added, the money invested in a storage solution likely would be less than the money spent if a school district did not have a solution and had to address a legal issue.

The legislation puts the impetus on schools to not only store the data, but implement ways to retrieve it as well. In December eSchool News online reported:

An expert on issues concerning technology and the law, Lindsay has called prematurely deleting or copying over eMail documents a matter of “virtual shredding.”

Lindsay says the rules will require schools and other organizations to think about how and where they store digital information in advance of potential legal skirmishes. Schools, for example, might want to conduct technology inventories to better understand what types of eMail storage and data backup systems they have in place; establish guidelines for the kinds of information that must be saved and for those that can be deleted; and decide where to store critical data, so the information is easily accessible in the event of a problem, he said.

The new regulations don’t constitute any major changes to the law per se, Lindsay said, but by noting that electronic communications should be preserved with the same care and diligence as other business-related documents, the High Court ruling forces managers “to recognize this distinction up front,” giving schools, businesses, and even individual users an opportunity to be proactive in efforts to secure relevant computer-based information.

Law changes like this can be disconcerting, particularly in trying to determine what is truly required of schools. For most, there are more questions than answers. If any of our readers have information or sources that better explain what is required, please email or post them here.

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