The department acknowledged only recently, in response to inquiries over the past 12 months from the Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau, that e-mails from January 2007 through September 2008 were destroyed. The department’s top information officer called the destruction of public records a “significant loss of data.”
“All data sent and received by DOC staff statewide through e-mail from each institution, community corrections, health services, and all other business units within the department for the entire year of 2007 and from January through September of 2008 were destroyed and are no longer retrievable,” Douglas B. Smith, the department’s chief information officer, wrote in a letter dated Aug. 6 that the Scripps-Tribune Capitol Bureau received only last week.
Smith said the records were destroyed in March 2012 in “an attempt to fix a hardware problem” by the Southwood Shared Resource Center, which is a state-owned data center that houses information for state departments and agencies.
The destruction of such a large number of public records is significant because it eliminates an important trail of electronic evidence the agency is required to maintain to publicly document its actions. Not only are state agencies required to maintain and make public records accessible to citizens under Florida’s Sunshine Law. They also are required to retain documents, including e-mails and other electronic messages, for a period that is determined based on the subject of the communication.
“Retention periods are determined by the content, nature, and purpose of records, and are set based on their legal, fiscal, administrative, and historical values, regardless of the format in which they reside or the method by which they are transmitted,” according to the state’s retention policy for electronic communication.
The correspondence must be retained under the state’s record retention policy to comply with required financial and performance audits; grant compliance; potential legal action; and other administrative functions that rely on archived documents.
Gov. Rick Scott did not know the records were destroyed, according to Frank Collins, his communications director.
“We were not aware of the issue and we are looking into it,” he said.