« Courts - SCOTUS: "Oral argument read from a prepared text is not favored" | Main | Courts - "Beware of email attachments purporting to carry case information" »

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Private e-mail accounts: State and federal officials, regardless of political party, have sidestepped public records laws meant to keep government activities transparent"

The AP's Jack Gillum had a story Jan. 11th headed "Christie aide is latest to use private emails." Some quotes from the long story (access quickly, a companion story is already gone):

WASHINGTON (AP) — Personal emails at the center of the brewing scandal for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may have remained secret, had the public and press relied solely on the state's open records law.

Emails disclosed this past week show a top Christie aide asking the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to shut down three lanes on the busy George Washington Bridge, resulting in major backups for days last September. Those emails were leaked to reporters last week, even though one newspaper requested them nearly a month ago, only to be told they didn't exist.

The use of private emails adds Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, to a growing list of administrations that use private email accounts and other digital services to conduct official business. In turn, state and federal officials, regardless of political party, have sidestepped public records laws meant to keep government activities transparent.

The Record of Bergen, N.J., said it filed an open-records request last month asking for emails related to the Port Authority's decision to close the bridge lanes. The request specifically sought emails between David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed Port Authority official, and employees in the governor's office.

The newspaper received a response from Christie's office 10 days later, stating that the office "reviewed its records" but did not find any responsive emails. Weeks later, however, emails similar to what The Record asked for were made public after being obtained under subpoena by state Assembly Democrats.

Later in the story:
Public records laws, which can vary widely from state to state, govern how officials' documents and correspondence should be stored and released. But those laws largely have been slow to catch up to the digital age.

The result creates a gray area for how state and federal employees can use electronic services, such as personal email accounts and phone text messages, to conduct their business. It also creates murkiness for how those records should be disclosed to an inquisitive public.

The story continues with a number of useful examples.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 16, 2014 11:41 AM
Posted to Indiana Government