New York State Risks Sanctions for Deleting Government Emails


New York State’s policy of deleting emails after 90 days has been around for years, but it’s making news this week because all state agencies have completed their transition to one centralized email system. Even though this system provides enough storage for many decades of email for each user, emails are disappearing. Reinvent Albany is one of dozens of groups to call on Governor Cuomo to end this practice. Now there’s one more reason to end it.

Yesterday, the Albany Times-Union reported on a lawsuit where two state agencies’ deleted emails are coming back to haunt them. When a lawsuit is filed, parties to the lawsuit must refrain from deleting any evidence (whether helpful or harmful to their argument). New York State’s aggressive email deletion policy leaves almost no margin for error in communicating the existence of lawsuits among agency employees and between agencies themselves.

Sure enough, after being notified of the fact that it was being sued, the New York Office of General Services failed to retain emails between employees which would otherwise be the center of the litigation. These emails involve communications between government employees, and allegedly contain some evidence of malfeasance by those employees.

Whether or not those emails would have been exculpatory or damning, the fact is: they’re deleted. The emails no longer exist to bail out the state or its employees, and now the state is facing costly sanctions (legal penalties) for destroying evidence central to the case. The 90-day email destruction policy was billed as a way to save taxpayers money, but the state can save emails for decades. Instead, we’re starting to see how much deleting emails can cost everyone involved.