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How often should emails be backed up and how long should they be retained?

Kevin Beaver discusses how often emails should be backed up and how long organizations should retain them in this Ask the Expert response

Do you have any recommendations on how often email should be backed up and how long it should be retained?
This is a complex topic that depends on your organization's contractual and regulatory obligations, technologies you currently use for email, your business structure and so forth. A security or governance committee is recommended if you're backing up large amounts of data, especially for retention. This is not something storage administrators should have to decide themselves. There are too many legal issues involved and simply too much at stake.

First off, you're going to need to take an inventory of where your email is used and stored (Outlook, the web, personal phones, etc.). Next you need to determine your legal obligations related to email security and retention. How do the federal privacy and security regulations such as HIPAA affect your business? What about state breach notification laws?

You also need to decide how critical any/all of the emails are to your business - not only for future internal reference but also e-discovery. Deciding which emails are important will help to classify the different types of email. If that's too much of a challenge, at least consider separating out the emails that have attachments, since that's where a lot of sensitive information tends to be, and specific users or groups of users. This ensures that their email is handled and stored properly. As for instant messaging and social media messaging, if they're key to the business, you may want to consider bringing them into the scope as well.

This exercise is going to require the input from a lot of different people. You should never assume anything and don't just download someone else's data backup and retention policy and procedures off the Internet and believe that's going to be enough. At the very least, get your lawyer involved as he/she is going to be making a lot of key decisions related to this.

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