Email Retention Controversy Roils Transition in Chile

17 March 2014

The outgoing administration of President Sebastián Piñera’s in Chile allowed government employees to delete personal emails before leaving office, later backpedaling under pressure.

A controversy erupted after the newspaper El Mostrador March 10 disclosed the existence of Supreme Decree 14, signed in mid-January but not published until Feb. 27, overturned a 2004 regulation on electronic documents that among other things mandated that all public officials keep their emails for six years.

In reaction, on the eve of the transition, officials in several departments gave instructions not to delete emails, saying that the original intention had been only to allow deletion of personal correspondence, not official correspondence. (See Politica article in Spanish)

However, the spokesman for the incoming administration of Michelle Bachelet, called the decree a “terrible sign” about transparency. (See The Clinic report in Spanish.) Incoming and outgoing ministers jousted over the issue. (See The Clinic article in Spanish.) (Also see summary in English-language Santiago Times.)

María José Poblete, Executive Director of Fundación Pro Acceso, told

I think that this is a pernicious controversy for democracy, and it shows the need of clarifying the issue at a legal and constitutional level.  The right to access to public information has to be constantly protected, in order to guarantee transparency, and healthful democracy. E-mails may also contain public information, and have therefore to be kept.

The Council for Transparency previously had advised all departments to retain documentation for the new administration.

In November of 2013, the Chilean Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Ministry of Transport to release e-mails from public officials related to the modification of the public urban transport system in Santiago. (See previous report.)

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