I’ll have more on this later, but Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson recently ruled that e-mail and texts regarding public business using the private phones or computers of officials are open records in Oklahoma.
Here’s the question asked in the ruling:
Are e-mails, text messages, and other electronic communications made in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administration of public property, subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Records Management Act when they are created, received, transmitted, or maintained by public officials on privately owned equipment and communication devices?
Here’s the brief answer, before four more pages of background:
The answer is yes, unless some provision of law makes the information confidential. Electronic communications that qualify as “records” are subject to the Open Records Act and Records Management Act. Moreover, to conclude otherwise would allow public officials and employees to circumvent the open records laws simply by using privately owned personal electronic communication devices to conduct public business. (boldface mine)
Earlier this year, while his office was formulating the opinion, Edmondson made a good analogy about the question under review. He likened those texts and e-mails to documents in a briefcase. Essentially, if those paper documents in a privately owned briefcase were open records, then e-mails and texts about government business on privately owned computers and cell phones should be open records, too.
Written by Paul Monies