Email is an incredible communication tool that educators use day in and day out, empowering them to connect with students, staff, parents and the community. It’s powerful and popular, but nevertheless a pandora's box for schools when it comes to security.
Certainly a beautiful thing for school communications, email is direct, cost effective, secure and easy when done right. For privacy and archiving issues, however, schools have a difficult set of regulations to navigate. Thanks to the U.S. federal and state governments, school administrators face poorly defined rules about email. In addition to federal mandates, your school might face different requirements from your state.
The legal case for managing school email
At the federal level there are two major acts that schools must follow when it comes to strengthening their school email security: the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Freedom of Information Act. These two acts put a huge legal responsibility on school districts to keep a record of emails and be able to retrieve them when requested.
FERPA allows students and parents the right to review a student's educational records. The reach of this act includes email.
The second piece of legislation, Freedom of Information Act, applies to almost all public and government agencies. This law states that government agencies – such as public schools, colleges and universities – must make available copies of all records, regardless of form or format. Your IT department must adhere to the information request within 10 days of its receipt. In short, your school needs to provide all relevant emails when requested.
Neither of these laws say anything about how long a school must keep email. Your district should develop and maintain a standard archiving policy for emails. In corporate America, the standard retention period is seven years. (The IRS drives this choice, as the IRS expects businesses to keep records for seven years...That's a lot of shoeboxes.)
The cost of managing the email’s popularity
According to a recent survey of school communications and IT administrators conducted by the Campus Suite Academy, email is still the preferred method of online communication. The challenge, however, for schools is managing the responsibility of it all.
Along with its reach and effectiveness, there are a host of issues surrounding school email, some of which we've addressed in previous articles on the Campus Suite Academy blog. I wrote a primer for school IT managers on stopping those fake emails that can haunt any email system. Michael Hiles provides some tips on how to keep your school email from being blocked.
Archiving puts a financial burden on schools. Storage is expensive. Software to manage archiving is even more expensive. Insanity is keeping everything compliant for onsite email services. (I know firsthand. I was a network engineer for years, and worked on many archiving systems.)
Enter Google Vault. Google Vault is Google's archiving solution for Google Apps. Google Apps includes not only mail, but instant messenger and a productivity suite. Google made a change to their pricing policy, and now offers Vault for free to schools. With Vault, Google Apps is a powerful way for schools to save money while being compliant.
Archive your school emails securely
Google Vault brings you two key things: the first is archiving. Your district can set archiving policies for chat, emails, and Google Docs files. Archiving can be set to the retention policy of your schools choosing. (Remember, there is no standard on the timeframe.) Google Vault has some specific technical limits that you need to be aware of.
For example, one limitation with Vault is with Hangouts and chats. Google allows users to have a Hangout be "off the record." Off the record chats are not archived into Vault. Administrators cannot force all chats to be "on the record," meaning they are recorded into Vault. Your users will have the ability to have chat conversations that are not archived.
Google Drive has some limits with Vault. Vault only allows the search and review of the most current version of a document. Revisions of a document are not available to search. If a user created a document, then edited something out of the document, you cannot find the edit. This may be a challenge for your school in planning archiving policies.
Search and find school emails
The second key tool Google Vault brings your school is E-discovery. Searching is as simple as searching on Google.com, You can search and deliver any request for email, chats, and Drive files. You can place a hold on any users files to keep them indefinitely, and you can export chats, emails, and files into a common format for FOIA request, or legal discovery.
Google's Discovery has a limit of searching 5,000 users at a time. Most schools will not have a challenge with this, but a large district might. If you will have more than 5,000 users, talk to Google about how to segment your users for discovery.
Questions to answer when considering Vault
So is Google Vault a good choice for your school? I would start by answering these questions:
- Are you using Google Apps? Vault is bundled into Google Apps for Education.
- Do you have a clear FOIA policy? Vault is a great solution for hitting the 10 day deadline.
- Do you have a clear retention policy? If your policy requires capturing things that Vault doesn't cover, you could be open to legal liability.
- What’s your budget? Google Apps for Education and Vault are free to schools. Meeting FOIA and retention needs for free is a great solution to tight tech budgets.
- Do you have any legal settlements in place? Some schools have a legal settlement that might need specific archiving or compliance. Review all your retention and FOIA policies with your legal counsel.
Ready to test Google Vault? Google have tools to assist in the evaluation and deployment process. Google built an entire library of assessment tools to help with your assessment. Working through the assessment and setup guide will let you see if Vault is a fit for your district.
If setup and configuration are daunting, Google has a solution for you as well. Google has an ecosystem that has certified partners to help with setup, deployment, and support. Use the money you save on archiving to pay for deployment. Getting help to setup and secure your archiving is a solid investment.
Vault is a valuable tool for schools. Saving money, being compliant, and saving time are a great reasons to test Vault.
What are currently doing to secure and store your school's email?
Eric's background as a technical CEO with a big-picture focus brings the experience and vision that both gains the respect of technical audiences, and gets the attention of the progressive school leaders and administrators.