Choosing Record Retention Software To Comply With Washington PRA Requirements

Different standards and regulations apply to every industry. Learn how screenshots can help you remain compliant with established regulations.

Different standards and regulations apply to every industry. Learn how screenshots can help you remain compliant with established regulations.

The Washington Public Records Act, comprehended in Chapter 40.14 of the Revised Code of Washington, mandates all public records held by state and local agencies to be at the disposal of the public, with few statutory exemptions. This chapter also enacts the time frame of retaining records depending on their content, purpose, and function. 

Accordingly, to comply with the act, public officials need to record and maintain extensive records, which can be in electronic format. However, the complexity of public records and making them available timely and accurately is an additional challenge for the concerned authorities. 

In addition, the internet has expanded the limits of government communications in formats and quantity. That has affected how government agencies conduct and document their activities. There are more communications and many different formats and sources to be recorded. 

This situation augments the need for software to eliminate manual, routine tasks. In this article, we will touch on the various aspects of The Washington Public Records Act and the use of technology to comply with this act effectively. 

What is a public record according to the Washington Public Records Act? 

According to the Washington Secretary of State and RCW 42.56.010(3), a public record is any writing containing information made or received in the transaction of public business, regardless of format. The term writing is an umbrella term to define any traditional records, videos, maps, photos, social media posts, emails, voicemails, and web pages. 

A record has to meet a minimum of three criteria to be defined as a public record. So, before maintaining and capturing public records, stakeholders must understand what qualifies as a public record and put complete records retention policies in place. That becomes complex as the vast majority of records that agencies deal with qualify as public records.

Furthermore, filtering non-essential records is equally crucial, as not all records received and retained are public records. For example, suppose the record does not relate to government conduct or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function. In that case, it does not have a retention value. 

How to comply with the Washington Public Records Act?

While the traditional records continue to be maintained as per the existing document management system, public records in electronic format need to adhere to chapter WAC 434-662-040 ( Preservation of Electronic Records). It states in part: "Electronic records must be retained in electronic format and remain usable, searchable, retrievable and authentic for the length of the designated retention period. Printing and retaining a hard copy is not a substitute for the electronic version unless approved by the applicable records committee."

That could include retaining metadata, which is data about data, and is vital for tracking e-records. It gets automatically created by software programs and describes the history, tracking, and management of an e-record. Metadata comes under the purview of this act. Still, a requester must specifically ask for it for an agency to be required to produce it. 

Sometimes, just a screenshot of a document will do. Other times, metadata will need to be saved as well or might need a timestamp. In addition, agencies are responsible for a security backup of active records. 

Further, if an agency actively uses social media, a social media policy must be in place. For example, some agencies post only secondary copies on their social media accounts and prohibit commenting to avoid public records retention issues. Suppose an agency posts its primary copy of a record on one of its social media accounts and/or permits commenting by third parties. In that case, the agency needs to implement tools to capture these public records, which increases the recordkeeping task manifold. 

In the end, agencies have the ongoing legal authority to dispose of public records using document retention guidelines and schedules, which can be found on the Secretary's website. These will describe the records and when they can destroy them.

Benefits of record management software

As the paradigm has shifted toward technology, there is a growing demand for access to public records in an organized and time-bound manner. As a result, public agencies have also started to explore technology-based solutions for the following benefits. 

  • Greater efficiency: Public agencies can increase efficiency by eliminating manual processes, and requesters get hassle-free access to public records. 
  • Reduced litigation and penalties: Timely and accurate responses avoid potentially high litigation costs and associated fees and penalties. 
  • Cost saving: Automation can reduce human intervention and expedite the task. Furthermore, e-data doesn't require physical space like traditional records. 
  • Increased trust and transparency: Public-facing web portals simplify citizens' access to information about their local government.
  • Better compliance with federal codes: Incoming documents can be easily classified, stored, and scheduled for eventual disposition per relevant state records regulations.
  • Upgraded security: Agencies can limit access to sensitive records to select individuals, avoiding unauthorized access. Further, traditional records stored in physical form are always vulnerable to physical deterioration or damage. Data stored in cloud-based storage is more secure and free from such damages. 

Things to keep in mind before implementing a record management solution

As evident, the need for technology-based solutions in record management is imminent. Still, choosing the right software is equally vital to unlocking its full potential. Anyone can get easily distracted by the wide variety of options in the market. So, when analyzing different solutions, always keep in mind the following:

  • The types of records you need to safekeep: Look for a solution compatible with the format of your records.
  • Your agency's workload: The chosen solution should be able to support the number of documents you have to keep to respond to the number of requests you receive and have to manage.
  • Your agency staff: Is your agency ready for the new implementation? That will allow you to see whether you can choose a more complex solution or have to focus on it being user-friendly. Also, look for software that can be easily integrated into your existing setup.
  • The needed functionalities: Last but not least, consider your needs when looking for software. Do you need things like public URL sharing, metadata, or timestamps?

Screenshots as a record management solution

Now that we're aware of the Washington record retention requirements and the benefits of counting on technology-based solutions, it's time to explore the options to achieve it effectively and efficiently. Fortunately, you can implement an everyday feature to do the work for you, and that's screenshots!

With an automated capturing solution like Stillio, you can set screenshots of any target webpage at the frequency of your liking. For example, say you want to save copies of your agency website; you can do it automatically with screenshots! The interval can be as short as a minute or as long as a year, which can vary with how often you update online public information.

In addition, screenshots can be tagged for ease of access and reference. You can also connect Stillio with a cloud-based drive like Google Drive to organize your data however you want. 

You can set timestamps for all your screenshots if a particular information needs to be tied to its time and date.

Stillio, in particular, has experience helping clients with content validation and website compliance for different recordkeeping regulations like HEOA and FOIA requests. We're experts at capturing and keeping your information safe and accessible.

Record management beyond software

Technology, although very useful, can't solve all our responsibilities. There are other tasks an agency could implement besides software to stay compliant and show transparency to their community:

  • Record management policies: to state how to keep records and for how long.
  • Communicate with requesters: to make clear information visible and narrow record requests.
  • Proactively disclosing information: similar to before, to reduce requests.

Conclusion

While local governments and public agencies cannot turn their face from the Washington Public Records Act, they can improve their record keeping to avoid paying high litigation costs, steep settlement payments, or penalties. Relying on a technology-based solution makes much sense to comply with this regulation. Stillio is a powerful webpage screenshotting tool that can efficiently cater to Washington public record retention requirements. You can book a free demo to see how things improve. 

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