State agencies and local governments should determine:
- which messages are “records”,
- how long those messages should be retained, and
- what steps can be taken to retain them, particularly when voicemail systems are not designed to store messages.
Retention and disposition of voicemail
Voicemail messages may meet the legal definition of being “records” under Arts and Cultural Affairs Law (Section 57.05 for state agencies and Article 57-A for local governments). These laws establish that records of government activities can exist in any media, including audio, video, and electronic formats, and that all records require disposition authorization from the State Archives.
For state agencies:
- Voicemail messages of transitory value, under the legal definition of "records", may be regarded as "non-records" because they do not document public business. Those messages can be immediately deleted after opening.
- Messages providing substantive information or direction are "records.” Staff should manage those messages in conjunction with related records pertinent to the subject of the messages, based on the applicable agency retention schedule or State General Retention and Disposition Schedule series.
For local governments:
- Voicemail messages of transitory value can be managed using "internal information record", item number 57 from the General Administration section of the LGS-1. This item authorizes immediate destruction when the records are no longer needed.
- Messages containing important information should be managed using the records series to which the message relates.
Alternatives for retaining voicemail messages
Determine how long your voicemail system can retain messages
It may be possible to retain messages in the system to meet retention needs. Even if messages are automatically deleted after a time, system administrators may be able to retain selected messages for extended periods on request, either in the voicemail system or in other locations.
Request senders re-submit information as e-mail or written communications
Particularly when the messages are of such importance that their contents need to be documented and retained for legal, administrative, or other purposes. Receipt of these written communications may eliminate the need to retain the voice messages.
Prepare a paper "note to the file" summarizing the contents of important messages
The prepared note would be filed with related records in the office recordkeeping system. This is an easy solution that represents a good faith attempt to document messages in a convenient fashion, especially when continued retention of the original messages is impractical. This solution does not preserve the actual messages and questions could be raised about the accuracy of the "note to the file."
Add software to PCs to enable significant voicemail messages to be migrated to the PCs as digital files
If this method is chosen, offices should consider adding the software to only select PCs to limit costs, messages worth preserving can be forwarded to staff with the software. This solution saves messages in original format but includes the expense of purchasing the software and it may be perceived as "overkill” to preserve messages. It also requires that the digital versions of messages then be managed and retained for required retention periods.
Re-record messages to a tape recorder
Re-recording important messages to a tape recorder and preserve the tape. This choice is less high-tech than the previous alternative, although it also preserves the messages in original form. However, it also involves expense and is highly inconvenient.
Transcribe important messages word-for-word and then file those transcripts in the office recordkeeping system. This solution preserves the exact content of the messages as paper documents, but it is time-consuming and expensive to prepare transcripts.
Choosing the best alternative
The best alternative for state agencies or local governments will depend on the circumstances. Alternatives 1, 2 and 3 should be considered first to determine if they would prove adequate. Alternatives 4, 5 and 6 may be appropriate if messages of high importance or critical value are received often enough by voicemail to justify the time and expense.
State agency and local government staff typically do not have access to voicemail messages they send. Callers can always prepare a “note to the file” to document important voicemail messages left with others or to summarize in-person or telephone discussions with others when such documentation is viewed as desirable.