The U.S. Adopts Total Email Archiving (In Theory): How Should We Measure The Success of the “Capstone” Approach to Email Recordkeeping?

Jason R. Baron


As mandated by the US. Archivist’s Managing Government Records Directive dated August 2012, all Executive Branch components of the US. government were required to ensure that as of December 31, 2016, all e-mail communications constituting federal records were to be preserved as official records in electronic form, for specified time periods under agency records schedules. To assist federal agencies in meeting this goal, the US National Archives and Records Administration developed a new policy with respect to the capture of e-mail records, known as “Capstone.” Agencies that voluntarily adopt the Capstone policy commit to preserving electronic copies of e-mail records of designated senior agency officials as permanent records, with the e-mail records of all other staff presumptively captured as long-term temporary records for a period of not less than 3 or 7 years depending on record types based on a General Records Schedule specifically developed for agencies following this approach.

If and when fully implemented, the Capstone approach has the potential to profoundly alter how billions of contemporaneous records of the US. government are preserved and accessed in the future. This session, which will be based on the latest information and reports available on NARA ‘s website as to how Capstone has fared, will provide a framework for evaluating the success of a policy that encourages total e-mail archiving. In light of the long-term consequences of Capstone, this session will propose a research agenda for the archival issues the Capstone policy raises. These include (i) analyzing Capstone’s success in capturing (and only capturing) e-mail records from senior officials that are of permanent value; (ii) appraising existing archival strategies for filtering sensitive content in vast e-mail repositories; and (iii) evaluating how well total capture of email has increased the right of citizen access to these records, through informal and formal means.


Jason R. Baron, Of Counsel, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP; Adjunct Professor, American University Washington College of Law; former Director of Litigation at the US National Archives and Records Administration

Selected References
Jason R. Baron &Simon J. Attfield, “Where Light in Darkness Lies: Preservation, Sensemaking, and Access Strategies for the Modem Digital Archive,” UNESCO Memory of the World in the Digital Age;Conference: Conference Proceedings, 580-595, Vancouver, B.C. (2012), Available at: Proceedings_FINAL_EN_Compressed.pdf
Jason R. Baron & Bennett B. Borden, “Opening Up Dark Digital Archives Through The Use of Analytics To Identify Sensitive Content,” 2016 IEEE International Conference on Big Data, Computational Archives Workshop (Dec. 2016), https:/ / archive/ opening-up-dark­digital-archives-through-the-use-of-analytics-to-identify-sensitve-content/5841627ab52b8b27eca07ab4
Jason R. Baron & Anne Thurston, “What Lessons Can Be Learned From the US Archivist’s Digital Mandate For 2019 And Is There Potential For Applying Them in Lower Resource Countries,” 26 RECORDS MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, NO. 2 (2016), http:/ /
US National Archives and Records Administration, “White Paper on The Capstone Approach and Capstone GRS (April 2015), https:/ /www.archives_,gov/files/records-n1g!111/email-management/final-capstqne-white-paper.pdf
US National Archives and Records Administration, Bulletin 2013-02, “Guidance on a New Approach to Managing E-mail Records” (Aug. 29, 2013),­mgmt/bulletins/2013/2013-02.html
US Office of Management and Budget & US National Archives and Records Administration, M-12- 18, “Managing Government Records Directive” (Aug. 24, 2012), https:/ / records-mgmt/m-12-18.pdf