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Frequently Asked Questions 

Find help for the questions most commonly asked to Records Management staff. If you still have questions or would like more information, please contact us at 252-328-6838 or recordsmanagement@ecu.edu.

What are public records?

The General Statutes of North Carolina, Chapter §132, provides this definition of public records:

"Public record" or "public records" shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data- processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.

What makes a public record confidential?

Any federal or state statutes and/or regulations that designate a public record as confidential.

How can I destroy records?

After you have signed and approved your records retention and disposition schedule, records should be destroyed in one of the ways listed below, depending on the nature of the records:

Paper records should be destroyed in one of the following ways: 

  • burned, unless prohibited by local ordinance;
  • shredded or torn so as to destroy the record content of the documents or materials concerned;
  • placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the document or materials concerned; or
  • sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold without pulverizing or shredding the documents so that the information contained within cannot be practicably read or reconstructed.

Electronic records should be destroyed in this way:

  • the data and metadata are to be overwritten, deleted, and unlinked so the data and metadata may not be practicably reconstructed.

Confidential records or records containing confidential information, whether paper or electronic, should be destroyed in this way:

  • the data, metadata, and physical media are to be destroyed in such a manner that the information cannot be read or reconstructed under any means.

What is the University of North Carolina General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule?

The University of North Carolina General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule is the key tool for UNC System Institutions employees to use when managing the routine records in their office. The General Records Retention Schedule addresses records commonly found in university campuses and administration, provides uniform descriptions and disposition instructions, and indicates minimum retention periods. Use of this General Schedule does not require further authorization to dispose of records listed in this schedule.

Can "sensitive" data be restricted?

As a general rule, no. All data generated by a state or local government agency in North Carolina are public unless they have been legally declared closed to public inspection by state or federal statute. Exceptions to this general rule are discussed in Chapter 132 of the General Statutes of North Carolina.

The University Archives and Records Management program is not empowered to make exemptions to the Public Records Law. The department understands that administrators often have valid concerns about security and privacy rights, but notes that North Carolina's Information Resources Management Commission (IRMC) has appointed committees to address both matters. Thus, questions related to concerns about specific sensitive information or data elements are more properly addressed to the IRMC or to the members of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Is government e-mail (email) considered public record?

Yes. Records created in the course of public business are considered public records regardless of format. Agency staff should be strongly cautioned that government e-mail is a part of the public record and that they have no privacy rights when using government e-mail at any level.

How should e-mail records be managed?

Public records in the form of e-mails must be managed according to Public Records Law. Like public record paper documents or other tangible media, e-mails cannot be destroyed without the permission of the Department of Cultural Resources (DCR), which grants such permission through its Records Retention and Disposition Schedules, commonly referred to as "schedules." These schedules generally determine the minimum period of time that e-mails must be kept based on the content of the e-mails, rather than applying a blanket rule to all emails. An exception to this rule is Executive Branch state agencies, which are subject to Executive Order 18 (Gov. Perdue, July 7, 2009) and Executive Order 12 (Gov. McCrory, May 21, 2013). Together, these executive orders require all executive branch state agency e-mails to be retained at least 5 years. The General Schedule for State Agency Records acknowledges these special requirements in its first item, E-Mail Messages File, which encourages state agencies not covered by the executive orders to follow similar retention procedures. As part of its e-mail service, the Office of Information and Computing Technology Services (ICTS) offers a solution for state agencies to automatically retain e-mails for 5 years. Any agency using the email service offered by ITS automatically has their messages retained for a minimum of five years.  

DCR has online resources concerning e-mail management:

Does the public have the right of direct access to public record files?

There is no specification in the Public Records Law of how the public must access public records. The means of access is left to the discretion of the agency. The public should not be given direct access if such an action would compromise the security and safety of the records themselves. Common sense urges caution where valuable records are concerned. Hardcopy and digital file storage areas may contain both "open" and "closed" records material, and the alteration, destruction, or theft of files represent clear dangers to public records. (See North Carolina General Statute § 132-6.(f))

If a member of the public demands access that the agency believes will compromise records security but that is not otherwise clearly prohibited in federal or state statutes, the office of origin is encouraged to contact the Office of University Counsel.

After paper records are scanned into a digital imaging system, may the originals be destroyed?

North Carolina General Statutes § 121-5 (b) and § 132-3 (a) prohibit the destruction of public records, be they hardcopy, electronic, or digital, originals or copies, without the prior authorization of the Office of University Counsel or the University Archives and Records Management program. Application for authorization to destroy records is initiated through the Department of Cultural Resources records retention and disposition scheduling procedures. Three conditions must be met before the destruction of original records can be approved:

  • The applicable records series must be scheduled with DCR through current records retention and disposition scheduling procedures.
  • The agency must provide convincing, documented evidence that the electronic records were created, reproduced, and otherwise managed in accordance with systems and procedures designed to ensure the reliability, accuracy, and security of both the records and the process or system used to produce the records.
  • DCR's global series retention and disposition schedules may be altered to permit the destruction of records only by mutual consent of DCR and the source agency.

DCR's publication Guidelines for Managing Trustworthy Digital Public Records describes methods and procedures for the preparation of reliable and accurate electronic records. This document outlines the requirements for state and local agencies to fulfill the second requirement above.

Does DCR recommend or approve hardware or software for use in conjunction with electronic records management?

No. The Department of Cultural Resources does not endorse, warrant, certify, or approve any particular hardware or software product or product combination used in any electronic records management activity. While North Carolina Guidelines for Managing Public Records Produced by Information Technology Systems provides general guidance as to the processes that help ensure legal acceptance of digital records, the implementation of these processes, including the specifications for products used therein, quite rightly remains at the discretion of the individual public agency.

In the future, specific file formats and software applications might be required in conjunction with the global management of North Carolina's digital public records, but any such requirements would be developed in close partnership with state and local agencies.

When can I destroy records?

Each record series listed in your agencies retention and disposition schedule disposition instructions that indicate how long that series must be kept in your offices.

How do I destroy records?

After you have signed and approved your records retention and disposition schedule, records should be destroyed in one of the ways listed below, depending on the nature of the records: 

Paper records should be destroyed in one of the following ways:

  • burned, unless prohibited by local ordinance;
  • shredded or torn so as to destroy the record content of the documents or materials concerned;
  • placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the document or materials concerned; or
  • sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold without pulverizing or shredding the documents so that the information contained within cannot be practicably read or reconstructed.

Electronic records should be destroyed in this way:

  • the data and metadata are to be overwritten, deleted, and unlinked so the data and metadata may not be practicably reconstructed.

Confidential records or records containing confidential information, whether paper or electronic, should be destroyed in this way:

  • the data, metadata, and physical media are to be destroyed in such a manner that the information cannot be read or reconstructed under any means.

N.C. Administrative Code, Title 7, Chapter 4, Subchapter M, Section .0510

How can I destroy records if they are not listed on a retention schedule?

Contact the Records Management Analyst assigned to your office. Your analyst will discuss the nature of the records with you to determine if the records have historical value. If the records do have historical value, we will discuss the possibility of transferring the records to the State Archives to be preserved permanently.


If you didn’t find the answer to your question, please contact us at recordsmanagement@ecu.edu