Government Law

Could government employees' personal email accounts be subject to open records law?


Are work-related communications exchanged through government employees’ personal electronic devices public record? The question will be answered by the California Supreme Court, which in the same appeal will also consider work-related emails exchanged through government employees’ personal accounts.

Generally, the Mercury News reports, emails sent or received on a city system are subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.

A 2013 Santa Clara County Superior Court ruling found that San Jose City Hall workers must make public work-related messages sent on private electronic devices. The ruling was reversed by the 6th District Court of Appeal, which in a March opinion (PDF) found that it was up to the California Legislature to determine which communications would be public record.

The case was brought by Ted Smith, a California activist who sought communications related to downtown San Jose redevelopment, according to the 6th District opinion.

Supporters of Smith’s position have argued that government officials could get around the state public records act by using their personal electronic devices to discuss all work-related business, the Mercury News reports.

Rick Doyle, the San Jose city attorney, argued that the state’s public record law was passed in 1968, well before the age of cellphones and tablets. Also, the defense maintains that they have no control over employees’ personal email accounts, and it would be expensive and difficult to gather those records.

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