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What's New September 2015

Media Release - Chief Archivist releases report on Managing Text Messages under the Public Records Act 2005

Tue, 15/09/2015 - 12:50pm


Chief Archivist Marilyn Little today released the report of her review into the Prime Minister’s recordkeeping practices in regard to text messages.

The decision to carry out the review arose from a request by James Shaw MP in November last year, to investigate whether the deletion of text messages constituted a breach of the Public Records Act 2005.

While the review focussed on whether the Prime Minister had appropriate advice and support, the Prime Minister’s current practice and the nature of most text messages make it likely that public records were generally disposed of correctly.

The report includes the Chief Archivist’s actions and recommendations for improvements to the recordkeeping advice and support for all Ministers.  Work is already underway to implement these and, given the nature of most text messages, current practices will be largely unaffected.

The review highlighted that text messages can be public records and that Ministers are considered public offices under the Act.

The review also found that the Prime Minister was not advised of his full responsibilities under the Public Records Act and that the advice and support provided to all Ministers was inadequate.

A full copy of the report is available from the Archives New Zealand website link below. The Chief Archivist will be making no further public comment.

Media contact: Mike Smith 027 807 6741

Managing text messages under the Public Records Act 2005: A review by the Chief Archivist

Frequently asked questions:

1. What is the role of the Chief Archivist?

The Chief Archivist is responsible for administering the Public Records Act 2005, and is an independent statutory role.

2.What is a public record?

A public record means a record or class of records, in any form, in whole or in part, created or received by a public office in the conduct of its affairs.  This means that the content and context of a record is of relevance and not the device it was carried on, nor the form of the information, nor its format.  New devices and technologies evolve, but the records remain public records.

3.Do all public records need to be retained?

No. The Act does not require that all public records are kept. It enables Archives to maintain a flexible, proactive regime for making decisions about the appropriate management of all records. It also involves balancing the costs of retention against the risks if the records were no longer accessible or destroyed.

It is recognised that for Government to operate efficiently and effectively, public offices need to be able to dispose of certain types of records as part of normal business practice.  General Disposal Authority 7 exists for disposal of public records of facilitative, transitory and short-term value. By their very nature, most text messages will fall into this category.

4.When can text messages be deleted?

Under the Public Records Act, General Disposal Authority 7 allows for the deletion of public records that are of facilitative, transitory and/or short-term value.  The nature of most text messages means that their content is already authorised for deletion.

5.What are the implications for Ministers and other public offices?

The review’s findings and recommendations will not be onerous to implement.

The Public Records Act does not require that all public records, including text messages, are retained.  The nature of most text messages means that their content is already authorised for deletion.

The Department of Internal Affairs is looking at a range of simple options to assist Ministers meet their responsibilities under the Public Records Act; Current practices are unlikely to be significantly affected.