Friday, January 27, 2012

Commonwealth Court: Emails Subject to Right to Know

Are individual emails of Council members, school directors and Commissioners subject to Pennsylvania's Right to Know Law? According to a Commonwealth Court decision filed this week, you betcha.' But the Court carved out an exception for personal emails that have nothing to do with the public's business.

This opinion is the result of a Right-to-Know request filed by The Morning Call, seeking the emails of individual Easton School Board members.

Interestingly, the Court has ruled that not all emails sent from or received by a public computer constitute "public records" subject to the right to know. Personal emails can be excluded. But individual emails that address agency business must be produced.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

How do they produce emails if they were all deleted? A lot to do about nothing.

Issac Touro said...

moral of the story - don't write anything down and only talk in whispers

Bernie O'Hare said...

"How do they produce emails if they were all deleted? A lot to do about nothing."

There are record retention policies and state laws requiring them to be kept for s many years. I do not know the period, but anyone who deletes email so it can't be obtained via RTK is creating a much bigger problem than simply being transparent in the first place. It's never the offense, but the coverup.

Al Bernotas said...

Bernie - Thanks for covering this topic, and this particular issue. the RTKL is an important tool for those who are interested in government transparency. I have used it in Bethlehem, and plan to further use it. And, it has had a positive impact on actions taken by our city government.

Anonymous said...

The judges who think we don't have a right to see the personal emails must use their PUBLIC computers for personal email which, I think, would be an ethics violation.

There should not be personal emails on PUBLIC provided computers or internet services.

The inability to ask for personal emails renders an investigation into whether someone was using public resources for private purposes moot, does it not?

-Clem

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the courts force me to divulge personal emails I send on my phone or personal computer that has anything to do with government work. I support the FOIA, but only as far as it extends to the use of public equipment. If I have a conversation with a fellow elected official over dinner, I don't have to divulge the specifics of that conversation, or even the fact that the conversation was held. Why should I have to do it with a private email account?

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:56, personal emzils are not public records even if they are from a public computer. That is part of the Court's ruling.