The Mississippi Ethics Commission hands down a landmark opinion on public officials’ texting about government business. The unanimous decision states text messages are considered public records in Mississippi, even if they are sent from a government official’s personal mobile phone.
An investigative reporter fought for access to what he believed was public record. He took his fight to the state and won. Mississippi open government and transparency advocates view this unanimous commission opinion as precedent-setting for all government bodies and public officials in the state.
Electronic Records Now Public Records in Mississippi
“The law is catching up with technology,” said Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood. Records, regardless of form, generated in the conduct of public business in Mississippi are to be considered public record.
State law requires permanent retention of all public matter correspondence. “This will be precedent for all public officials in Mississippi,” said Leonard Van Slyke, a media law attorney who advises the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information.
The EXthics Commission has public records findings online, such as PUBLIC RECORDS OPINION NO. R-13-023. The law exempts some information such as personnel records and individual tax records. The law takes effect July 1st 2014.