Each morning, Tuesday through Saturday, the Office of Open Records sends an email summarizing every Final Determination issued the prior day.
Reading that email each morning is a great way — probably the best way — to keep up to date on what issues are being decided in Right-to-Know Law appeals and how those issues are being decided.
If you deal with Pennsylvania’s RTKL on a regular basis, or you’re interested in Pennsylvania government transparency generally, I think it’s a must-read.
To subscribe, just head over to the OOR website and fill out this simple form. You can also choose whether or not you want to subscribe to our occasional, more general newsletter about issues related to the RTKL, the Sunshine Act, and government transparency.
Here’s a sample of what the email looks like:
A recent Commonwealth Court decision, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education v. The Fairness Center, upheld a decision by the Office of Open Records that agency-issued e-mail addresses held out to the public must be released in response to a Right-to-Know request, but that any agency-issued e-mail addresses not held out to the public may be withheld.
In the unreported decision, the Court held that:
“On appeal, PASSHE argues that agency-issued e-mail addresses for its faculty and coaches are all personal and not subject to disclosure, regardless of whether those addresses are primary or secondary in nature. To the contrary, we conclude that the OOR correctly determined that the e-mail addresses at issue could be divided into two categories: those e-mail addresses that were not held out to the public or publically accessible and those that were held out to the public as places where faculty and coaches could be contacted.
“As OOR held and consistent with our case law applying the personal identification information exemption to agency-issued e-mail addresses, we agree with that differentiation and with OOR’s determination that the former type of e-mail addresses should be protected from disclosure and the latter should be subject to disclosure.”
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.