Place Gmail messages on hold

As part of your Google Workspace data eDiscovery projects, you can use holds to preserve Gmail messages indefinitely to meet legal or preservation obligations. You can apply a hold to individual accounts or all accounts in an organizational unit. Holds override retention rules, so data on hold is protected from your normal data governance rules that might purge it otherwise.

If a user who's subject to a hold deletes messages and empties the Trash, they're removed from the user's view, but the messages are still available to Vault. As long as the hold is in place, you can search and export all messages.

If your Google Workspace administrator deletes a user's account in the Admin console, the user's data is no longer available in Vault and cannot be restored. If you want to hold or retain a user's data, the user must have both Google Workspace and Vault licenses. Learn more about Preserving data for users.

For more information about holds, see the holds FAQ.

Important information about Gmail holds

Messages on hold are always visible to Vault users with access privileges

When a message that's on hold is deleted by a user or a retention rule, the user can't access the message anymore. However, a Vault user with appropriate privileges can search for and view the message in Vault. The Vault user can also export the message using Vault.

System-generated Gmail labels may affect holds

Gmail uses labels to organize messages in user inboxes. There are two types of labels:

  • user-visible labels—these labels appear in Gmail's user interface. A few common labels are present in all Gmail accounts, and users can create new labels to help organize their messages.
  • system-generated labels—these labels are used by Gmail's backend systems to classify messages. They're invisible to end users.

System-generated labels control how messages are presented to Gmail users. For example, Gmail may apply the finance label to messages that come from a user's bank and the travel label to messages that include hotel reservations.

When a user creates a label that matches a system-generated label, Gmail can disambiguate these labels and display messages appropriately. However, Vault can't distinguish system-generated labels from user-created labels that have the same name. Creating a hold that's based on a system-generated label could cause the hold to include more messages than you intend to cover.

For example, let's say an organization is required to retain all data related to corporate finance for 7 years:

  • Employees are instructed to create a label named finance and apply it to messages that include corporate financial information.
  • Some employees have their personal bank statements sent to their corporate accounts; Gmail applies the system-generated label named finance to these messages.

In this scenario, a hold based on label:finance will include the messages with employees' personal bank statements.

We recommend you use caution when basing holds on the following labels:

  • personal
  • social
  • promotion
  • promos
  • updates
  • forums
  • travel
  • purchases
  • finance
  • all
  • buzz
  • chat
  • chats
  • done
  • draft
  • drafts
  • important
  • inbox
  • lowpriority
  • low_priority
  • mute
  • muted
  • pinned
  • read
  • reminder
  • reminders
  • scheduled
  • sent
  • snoozed
  • spam
  • phishing
  • star
  • starred
  • task
  • tasks
  • trash
  • trips
  • unimportant
  • unread
  • voicemail
  • saved

Place Gmail on hold

  1. Create or open the matter that will contain the hold.
  2. Click Create Hold.
  3. Enter a unique name for the hold. 
  4. Choose the type of hold: Mail.
  5. Use the drop-down list to apply the hold to either individual accounts or to an entire organizational unit:
    • Accounts—enter one or more email addresses for the accounts or Groups that are subject to this hold.
    • Organization—choose an organizational unit from the drop-down list.
  6. Set the conditions for the hold:
    • Sent date—You can use a range of dates to hold messages. If you enter a date only in the first field, all messages on or after that date are held. If you enter a date only in the second field, all messages before or on that date are held. Leave this field blank to apply the hold to all messages.
    • Terms—You can use search terms and operators to specify message contents to be held.
  7. Click Save to create the hold.

Modify an existing hold on Gmail

You can change some of the criteria of a hold. However, you can't change the data type.

  1. Open the matter that contains the hold.
  2. Click the hold, then click Edit Hold.
  3. Modify any of the following criteria:
    • Accounts—Add or remove accounts or organizational units. You cannot add accounts to a hold that covers an organizational unit, nor can you add organizational units to a hold that covers individual accounts. If you remove all users, you're prompted to delete the hold. 
  4. Modify any of the following:
    • Sent date—Expand or restrict the range of dates subject to hold.
    • Terms—Add or remove search terms and operators to change which messages are subject to this hold.
  5. Click Save.
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