State Supreme Court to review government email privacy [San Jose Mercury News :: ]
(San Jose Mercury News (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 27--SAN JOSE -- The California Supreme Court announced Friday it will consider whether government workers must disclose email, text messages and other electronic communication about government matters on their personal smart-phones or other private devices in a case that originated in San Jose.
Last year, open records advocates defeated San Jose City Hall in the lower courts in a case over whether the city's 5,500 workers had to make public messages sent on their private devices. Typically, emails sent or received on a city's system would be subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. But it was not clear whether the same employee could keep a government-related message sent from a personal G-mail account private.
News organizations and open-government activists argued officials could skirt the spirit of the landmark 1968 Public Records Act by texting, calling or emailing about government business with their personal devices.
But city officials, aided in court by the California League of Cities, said they have no control over the employees' personal accounts and it would be costly and unwieldy to compile the records.
City Attorney Rick Doyle argued the California records law, passed in an age well before texting or email, never contemplated that private devices would be subject to records requests.
The 6th District Court of Appeal agreed in a 3-0 ruling in March. Justices Franklin Elia, Conrad Rushing and Eugene Premo said it should be up to the California Legislature and not the courts to determine which records are public.
That decision reversed a March 2013 ruling from a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge who said "a public agency could easily shield information from public disclosure simply by storing it on equipment it does not technically own." The case was brought by activist Ted Smith and his lawyer, James McManis.
Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.
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