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Land ministry to automatically delete official emails after 1 year

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is set to start from next month automatically deleting official emails from servers after one year has passed since they were sent or received, it has been learned.

The move, which comes amid the rapidly growing use of official emails at Japanese government ministries and agencies, has prompted experts to raise concerns, with one of them saying, "Emails that are necessary to verify policy measures will be deleted."

While the ministry has instructed its employees to save emails that constitute public documents requiring preservation, it cited contact emails from Diet members requesting briefings on policy measures as an example of disposable emails, among other correspondence.

According to in-house draft guidelines for email management obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun as well as the ministry's explanations, the ministry notified its employees of the new policy last year and instructed them to turn emails that constitute official documents and need to be preserved for at least one year into data files, and then save and register them in shared folders or elsewhere by the end of January this year. Unless such steps are made, emails will be beyond retrieval once they are automatically deleted from servers under the new scheme.

Even if emails are deemed to be official documents, their retention period can be set at less than one year if they are classified as of low importance at the discretion of bureaucrats. The proposed in-house guidelines demand that ministry employees discard emails whose retention period is set at less than a year, except for those in great need for sharing among employees.

As examples of disposable emails, the draft guidelines cite contact emails from Diet members requesting explanations about policy measures, as well as emails for scheduling meetings and briefings for legislators.

While the draft guidelines state that employees "need to take heed to the possibility that disposable emails can be subject to requests for information disclosure," a source close to the land ministry told the Mainichi, "It could be taken as the ministry instructing its staff to scrap emails that are inconvenient (to the ministry)."

The government has earlier explained that it had discarded documents regarding the shady land deal with Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen and the cover-up of logs kept by Ground Self-Defense Force troops engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan on the grounds that their retention periods were less than one year each, drawing fire for the vague definition of the "less than a year" retention period. The land ministry was in charge of administrative procedures in the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot in Osaka Prefecture to Moritomo Gakuen, one of the issues at the center of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's favoritism scandals.

The land ministry explained to the Mainichi that the move to automatically delete emails is aimed at responding to revisions to the government's guidelines for management of official documents and in meeting the need to secure sufficient server capacity. The ministry said emails that can be discarded are those whose content requires less than a year of retention even in paper documents.

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