Aug 10, 2009

Doing public business in private

Attorneys for the city of Dallas, Texas, have proposed a novel legal theory to keep public business private.

The Dallas Morning News has sued to force a former mayor to turn over emails concerning a city-backed housing project that's at the center of a federal corruption probe. The city refuses, arguing the emails are on the former mayor's private BlackBerry and therefore private information.

In other words, what defines public versus private information is not the content or purpose of the communication (i.e., discussing public business), but the status of the device used to do the communicating.

From the DMN:
The main issue in the case is whether the Public Information Act requires government agencies to release messages that deal with public matters but are made using an official's personal e-mail account or mobile device.
A lower court has ruled in the newspaper's favor twice now but the case is on appeal. If Dallas wins, I'd guess city officials will forgo their publicly financed computers and cell phones for something a little more secure.

Hell, why not hold public meetings in private living rooms?

City lawyers have thrown an added twist into the case. They argue that only the two journalists who sought the emails, not the newspaper, have standing to bring the suit under the Texas Public Information Act - nevermind that the city is spending public money to defend what it deems to be a private matter.

(via Romenesko)

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