The emails of New York officials will no longer be automatically deleted after 90 days, aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week in response to political pressure over the purge policy.
It’s been a slow burn leading to the policy shift. The purge policy was first reported by the Albany Times Union back in mid-2013, but didn’t stir much protest until more recently, following coverage by ProPublica and Capital New York.
At a public meeting Friday, aides to the governor said they had reviewed the policies of other states and, going forward, any email deletion would be manual. That means more government communications should be retained and be accessible in response to public records requests or in the case of investigations of wrongdoing.
Good government groups welcomed the move, writing in an open letter that it “shows the power the governor has to lead by example to increase transparency” — rare praise for Cuomo, whose administration has generally been marked by secrecy.
Since the purge policy has been in effect for about two years in some state agencies, it’s probable that some public records have been lost.
“The purged emails are not coming back,” said John Kaehny, head of the pro-transparency group Reinvent Albany, in an email. “There is no Freedom of Information Law or archive ‘police’ to ensure that email records are actually being saved.”
Kaehny also noted that government officials sometimes use their non-government emails for work-related correspondence, another way to avoid public disclosure. We’ve previously reported on aides to Cuomo using private email accounts to conduct public business.
The deletion of emails and the use of private accounts has become a recurring issue for politicians across the country, from Hillary Clinton’s controversial use of her own email server when she was secretary of state to aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie using private accounts to communicate during what later became known as the Bridgegate scandal.
Earlier this month, the email issue emerged in Kansas, where the Wichita Eagle reported that Gov. Sam Brownback uses a private account, potentially putting his communications outside the bounds of the state’s freedom of information law.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.