Should You Delete or Archive Email

March 09, 2020 by Jatheon

To delete or archive email is a question that bothers many organizations, especially the ones that do not have a lot of experience with stringent laws dictate the need to preserve all business records.

This blog post is a good place to start if you’ve never archived email before and are not sure whether you need to archive email at all or whether you can simply delete it.

To help you get started, today we’re going to look at:

  • what email archiving is and how it can help you manage records
  • the reasons behind email archiving
  • concerns regarding storage capacity vs archived emails
  • what happens when you archive an email
  • and the pros and cons of deleting email.

Let’s get started.

By default, most people delete rather than archive their email. If you ask someone why they delete email, they will most likely tell you that they delete them because they want to keep their email organized and reduce mailbox clutter. While this is a valid reason for deleting emails, it’s rarely the real reason.

Why delete email?

The original reason why we’re even given the option to delete emails is simple–there’s limited space to keep them. However, it would be more correct to say that there used to be limited storage space to keep them.

But in 2020, having enough space to hold all of our emails is no longer an issue.

Gmail alone allows its users over 15 gigabytes of storage space before their inbox gets full. That’s enough room for 4 full length, 1080p movies.

In other words, if you use your email like most of us do – to store text-based messages along with some small attachments – you will have to work very hard to fill your email account.

Even after the introduction of folder structure, which allows us to organize and save important emails in specific locations for later use, there are still some emails we feel pressured to delete.

In order to protect the organization and prevent leaking of sensitive data, employees think that it’s best to purge those emails.

When you delete an email, it gets moved to a trash folder, where it is usually deleted after a period of time automatically (eg. in Gmail, this period is 30 days) and thus no longer accessible.

And another thing to bear in mind here is the storage space issue–when you move emails to a trash folder, they will still continue to take up space until you empty the trash folder.

But what if deleting is simply not an option?

What if the inbox we’re talking about is your business inbox where you receive all kinds of critical information that you often need to refer to?

What if you work in a public company that must maintain compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and preserve all digital communications (email included) for 5 years?

In these cases, as tempting as email deletion seems, it’s safer and more cost-effective to archive emails.

Why archive email?

You should archive emails for several reasons: to stay compliant with federal and industry-specific regulations, to protect your business in potential legal actions, to preserve server space, to have access to all business records at any given time, to minimize the risk and liabilities that can rise from poor records management.

In some cases, companies are required by law to retain their emails (being that emails are regarded as official business records) for a certain period of time.

Depending on the industry you work in, this retention period can vary. For example, under FERPA, schools need to preserve their emails for 5 years, whereas in healthcare, all information subject to HIPAA must be preserved for 7 years.

However, you can choose to keep your emails in the archive for longer than prescribed by law.

On the one hand, this might be a good decision because a longer retention period will ensure business continuity and allow you to rely on old emails to decipher past business decisions.

On the other hand, the longer you keep your emails in the archive, the bigger the risk that someone might jeopardize them. And also, if you keep your emails in the archive for longer than required, you increase the chances of being caught up in a legal investigation that you could have otherwise avoided legally.

What is email archiving?

Email archiving is the automated process during which all incoming, outgoing and internal emails in an organization are captured, indexed, deduplicated and archived either in a cloud environment or on an in-house appliance.

Email archiving was originally used for compliance and storage management purposes, but is now viewed as a fundamental part of corporate information governance and electronic records management.

What is email archiving used for?

In short, email archiving is used for preserving all your emails and helping you manage your records in a more efficient way.

This means that with email archiving you can:

  • respond faster to eDiscovery requests in investigation or litigation cases
  • recover all lost or deleted emails,
  • shorten the time for audit response,
  • preserve the intellectual property contained in the emails
  • optimize storage capacity of your server
  • ensure email backup in case of a disaster, thus ensuring continuity of your business
  • monitor internal and external communication
  • allow authorized users to set legal hold tags
  • set custom retention and purge policies

Email archiving is the perfect way to deal with emails containing private and sensitive information.

What happens when you archive an email?

Once you set up archiving in your company, each email that is sent or received by someone in your organization, along with all its metadata (sender, date, recipient, information on attachment, attachment itself) is captured.

It can either be captured directly from the content of the email (which is a process called journaling) or during the message transit.

Once the entire content of the email is captured, it gets indexed. Indexing is a process during which all the content of a message is “broken down” against a set of criteria and then stored in the archive, so that all the information is preserved in a smarter, and more accessible way. This works the same way you index all the books in a library (eg. according to period, writer, country, genre, etc.)

By breaking down the content of each message, indexing makes all messages and attachments searchable. This comes in handy not only when employees need to find a particular email quickly, but also in case of pending litigation, when relevant emails need to be located, put on legal hold and presented as evidence within a specified time frame.

After the messages are indexed, they get stored securely in an impenetrable, tamper-proof vault that only admins and compliance officers can access and manage. All messages get time and date-stamped in order to preserve data integrity and prevent evidence spoliation.

And since most archiving software these days come with advanced search capabilities, you can now search through millions of archived emails and locate the critical one in just seconds.

With advanced search, you can look for an email using a set of various criteria, based on content in body, sender or recipient fields, as well as in the attachment, or by running a search for an email using a particular phrase.

Will emails in archive be deleted?

No. When you archive emails, they will only be moved from your inbox to your archive, which you can access at any point. It’s a neat way to organize your inbox and still preserve all relevant documents that you can easily retrieve and export into a variety of formats at any later point.

How long do emails stay in the archive?

As long as you need them to. Again, the period for which you preserve your records depends on the purpose of the records. Depending on which archiver you use, you can set custom retention periods and keep the emails for as long as you want.

Think of it this way. After a project is finished, you might think that you’ll never need to view a particular email again.

But what if a similar project comes up and you need a glance at the previous one?

We always hope for the best, but what if your company gets sued in relation to this project and all communication detailing its implementation needs to be presented as evidence in court?

It could cost your company money and reputation to go searching for an email that can save your business and then come to the realization that you deleted it a year ago.

Here is a list of most retention periods by industry, as prescribed by relevant regulations:

IndustryRegulation/Regulatory BodyRetention Period
AllInternal Revenue Service (IRS)7 years
All (Government + Education)Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)3 years
All public companiesSarbanes-Oxley (SOX)7 years
EducationFERPA 5 years
FinancialGramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)7 years
Financial (Banking)FDIC5 years
(Brokers, dealers, investment bankers, securities firms)
FINRA, SEC 17a-4, SEC 17a-37 years 
DOD contractorsDOD 5015.23 years
Credit card companiesPCI DSS1 year
HealthcareHIPAA7 years
Pharmaceutical FDA2 years
TelecommunicationsFCC2 years

Who should be archiving emails?

Email archiving may be considered niche in some industries, but it’s justified to say it’s a matter of time before technology advancements start requiring other industries to accept and start archiving email.

This reasoning is grounded in the fact that both the volume and formats of data are going up, year after year. At the same time, most of these data types are regarded as official business records, so companies will be legally required to preserve them for reference.

Meanwhile, there are some industries like government and education that have been archiving emails for years now.

In this short video, our VC Business Development, Jeff Marlow, speaks about which industries should archive email:

So, now that we’ve looked at both email archiving and deleting, let’s sum it up.

  • Deleting removes emails from your inbox. It does save up space, but you won’t be able to ever again access your emails. This puts you at risk both in financial and legal terms. You won’t be able to produce evidence for eDiscovery and litigation. You also risk being in breach of records management regulations, and fines are by no means small (five Wall Street brokerages had to pay $8.25 million because they had discarded email related to customer transactions.)
  • Archiving also saves up storage space, by capturing and storing emails in an archive (either in the cloud or in-house appliance). However, archiving also indexes and stores your emails in a smart, efficient way, allowing you to quickly find any email via a variety of search criteria.
  • Archiving goes beyond just email management. It also allows you to monitor your communication channels and see if your employees violate any communication policies (eg. you can set keywords lists that would monitor channels for any kind of profanity and send early warning signals).
  • Archiving refers not only to emails, but to records in various forms. You can archive text, voice calls, social media, whatsapp messages, and more. This is important, as all this content constitutes official business records.

Read Next:

All You Need to Know About Compliance and Email Archiving

Why You Need a Fourth-Generation Email Archiving Solution

Email Archiving & the Pitfalls of Stubbing

Email Archive Migration: Challenges, Best Practices and Solutions

Email Archiving Benefits – 20 Reasons to Archive Email

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