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Wednesday, June 3, 1998 Published at 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK


UK

Saving the messages from the ministry

The Home Office: set to join the e-mail archive

Official archivists are making sure that historians in the future will have access to important government e-mails as well as printed documents.

The Public Record Office (PRO)has set up a special programme to store Whitehall e-mails and stop them disappearing into an "an electronic wastebasket".

The Lord Chancellor's Parliamentary Secretary Geoff Hoon said more than 95% of new official documents are either created or held electronically.

Every year government departments transfer 11 million sheets of paper to the PRO for storage and eventual release to the public.

But until now there has been a danger of computerised documents being deleted or amended, Mr Hoon said.


[ image: Potentially important messages can disappear in a couple of clicks]
Potentially important messages can disappear in a couple of clicks
"Anyone who has ever used a word processor knows how tempting it is to keep changing documents," he told a conference at the Public Record Office in Kew.

Should e-mail messages be treated in the same way as conventional letters, he asked.

"Can they ever constitute official records? On the one hand, they are so ephemeral and so immediate. Yet they are as valuable a record as more formal letters.

"We must ensure that, where the letter would have been preserved, the e-mail is not simply transferred into an electronic wastebasket.

"We cannot allow an information black hole to develop in which the electronic records being created today and tomorrow are lost."

To stop this the PRO has set up the Electronic Records in Office Systems Programme, to help ensure Whitehall departments create and store electronic records.

"Its aim is to guarantee that any electronic records of long-term value are available for future access," Mr Hoon said.



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