A recent article at Pennlive.com — “Should state workers conduct public business using private email accounts?” — tackled a very timely issue.
It’s an important article. When public officials are discovered to have used private email accounts to conduct government business, it can erode public trust. However, at least in Pennsylvania, it does not remove those emails from potential public review.
Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, as I told the article’s author, Jan Murphy, “very purposely does not distinguish between agency business that’s done on agency computers versus agency business done on a personal device.”
In other words, the RTKL was written to ensure that public records could not be kept out of the public sphere simply by using a personal email account.
Public officials should use official government email accounts — that’s clearly the best practice, and it should be the standard.
But if, for any reason, government business is conducted on personal devices, the RTKL covers those records in the same way it covers government business conducted on government devices.
2 thoughts on “Public Business and Private Email”
Thanks for this informative post. In our community, there has recently been a fair amount of ‘discussion’ regarding the use of e-mail among school board directors. As a taxpayer advocate, I am well aware of the risks involved in any ‘deliberation’ and/or ‘official action’ that occurs outside of the Sunshine and have continually encouraged and challenged our local elected representatives to limit ANY e-mail communication (whether private and/or potentially through e-mail accounts hosted by the district server). To date, the board has used personal e-mail accounts and there have been a few RTK requests related to ‘business’ conducted via e-mail. Would it be possible to:
1. Have a few more blog posts on what should/shouldn’t be communicated via e-mail
2. Share additional information about whether school board directors and local borough/township/municial directors should consider using agency e-mail addresses vs. private e-mail addresses
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Esther, thank you very much for the comments. I appreciate your suggestions!