School districts and other public entities as well as many business enterprises are required by law to maintain an archive of the electronic communications that take place on their networks. This includes instant messaging communications as well as email. The requirement to do this came into effect in 2006 with the adoption of Rule 26 of the Federal Regulations on Civil Procedures, or FRCP.
The purpose of the law is to ensure that electronic communications are available for use in court procedures should a school district or other qualifying entity be sued in federal court. Dozens of states have adopted Rule 26 or a close variation of it to also govern evidence production in state cases, as well. School districts and enterprises who are sued in federal or state court in these jurisdictions face stiff fines if they cannot produce all requested documents.
This purpose is laudable, but the technical challenges posed by the law are considerable. Many small and mid-sized business enterprises may not be aware that they should archive all electronic communications. School districts have generally been made aware of the law through the outreach of school legal services organizations, but they may lack the technical expertise to comply, as many school district IT departments are more geared toward meeting the day-to-day needs of teachers and students than in working towards "big picture" objectives.
In either situation, the work of an IT services consultant will prove invaluable. Such a consultant can explain the costs and benefits of a variety of email archiving systems and make sure that the enterprise or district can demonstrate compliance with applicable federal and state regulations.