EDITORIAL: Editorial: Business over private email should be public
Jan 09, 2013 (The Pantagraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In early December, the Associated Press reported that aides to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal used personal email to craft a public message about health care cuts.
Of more importance is the big picture: In this day of constant electronic communication, government workers found a way to step around the law designed for the public to know how government works.
Illinois' Freedom of Information Act allows access to internal government workings, with restrictions relating to personnel, litigation and real estate transactions. Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office -- charged with advocating public access -- has ruled emails about the public's business are, indeed, public. That's refreshing, since public access laws in Illinois are generally weak.
Louisiana law doesn't require emails to be part of the public record, so residents there were not legally able to read how Jindal's aides privately discussed how the state should respond to a public backlash against $523 million in health care cuts.
The AP said 26 states view private emails as public records, but the rest have no clear rules or prevailing case law on their use. Private emails sent by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin prompted a new law in that state. Massachusetts previously ruled that private emails of former Gov. Mitt Romney were legal, but subject to public record archiving.
Most of us are guilty of sending personal messages using company email. We send notes to spouses asking about dinner, tell friends about a bad day at work, communicate with our kids' schools about practice schedules -- the list is endless. Usually, even when those emails are sent to public accounts, we can make a distinction between a private note and what is a part of the public's business.
In Louisiana, and elsewhere, email has provided a way to discuss public business in private. That's got to be addressed. If government, and its officials, want to be trusted, public access is essential.
The public's right to know is one of the most important laws in the land. It must not be abused by those it protects, or by those from whom we are protected.
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