Exploding Email? Not So Fast, Says Watchdog

American Oversight asks NARA to stop agencies from using “self-destructing” email

Washington, DC — Nonpartisan watchdog American Oversight sent a letter to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) calling for government-wide guidance to prevent officials and employees from using Gmail’s new “self-destructing” email feature. The feature could allow government employees to delete agency records subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

“FOIA is one of the most powerful tools available to citizens to uncover corruption and waste in the Trump administration. If government employees and lobbyists can cherry-pick which emails become public and which emails never see the light of day, the public runs a serious risk of losing one of our strongest accountability tools,” said Melanie Sloan, Senior Advisor at American Oversight.

Google today launched a new version of its widely-used email platform which lets users send outgoing emails with time limits, after which the emails delete themselves. The updated design also lets senders revoke recipient access to emails after sending, create passcodes to access messages, and prevent recipients from forwarding emails.

Members of the public, journalists, and watchdog groups like American Oversight rely on FOIA to uncover emails and other records from the federal government. Given the widespread use of the Gmail platform by the general public, businesses, and even some federal agencies, the new features could not only allow federal employees to delete their own emails, but could also be used by lobbyists and interest groups to send self-deleting emails to government officials.

In the letter to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, American Oversight asked NARA to direct federal agencies to disable the “self-destructing” email feature and to implement policies, such as requiring federal employees to take screen shots, to preserve received emails that might delete themselves or be otherwise restricted by senders.

See American Oversight’s letter to NARA below: