Media reports like this one from the Jian Ghomeshi trial have underscored the lasting effect of electronic documents, correspondence and other data. Email is quick and cheap. Texts, even more so. For that reason, electronic messages often get sent without the sort of sober second thought which is (usually) put into corporate letterhead communication.
No one should stop using email or text messages, of course. But here are three things to keep in mind, from an organizational perspective:
- If a document is relevant to a matter which is in issue in a particular court proceeding, then it will (subject to privilege) be discoverable. Even if it makes you look really, really bad. Keep that in mind, before you commit something to an email or text. Thinking about deleting that email, so you don't need to disclose it? The courts do not look kindly upon spoliation of evidence and the consequences for so doing can be severe.
- Government bodies (and those who send things to them) should remember that "records" held by government bodies are prima facie subject to disclosure, pursuant to access to information requests. Maybe an exception to disclosure applies, and maybe it doesn't, but wouldn't it have been just as easy to have picked up the phone, rather than to have sent that email?
- Storage is almost limitless, so it's easy for information to pile up. In some circumstances, you may be legally obligated to store documents for a certain period of time. But absent such a legal requirement, privacy laws require organizations to collect, use and disclose personal information for only as long as is reasonably necessary, in order to accomplish the purpose for which the personal information was collected, in the first place. Organizational document retention (and destruction) policies are a must.