Officials can’t hide their work, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says

BY BRYAN DEAN Modified: May 16, 2009 at 1:24 am •  Published: May 16, 2009
A new ruling from Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson puts public officials on notice that they can’t hide public business by using their personal computers and telephones.

Edmondson said Friday his ruling should be a warning to both elected officials and state employees to be careful when using private technology for public business.

According to the opinion, e-mails, text messages and other documents which would otherwise be open under the Oklahoma Open Records Act are still public if they are sent, received or stored on a public official’s privately owned equipment or communication device.

Susan McVey, director of the state Libraries Department, requested the opinion, which also states that such records must be preserved just as they would be on government-owned computers.

The issue came up last year when an Oklahoma State University student requested records after discovering that OSU President Burns Hargis and hundreds of other university employees conducted public business on their personal cell phones.

University officials claimed the text messages, e-mails and numbers dialed on those phones were not public records because the devices were not owned by the school.

Edmondson said ownership of the device is irrelevant, and the law is clear that such information is public record.

"The analogy that I likened it to is a document that someone believes is not a public record because it is in their personal briefcase and not a filing cabinet,” Edmondson said.

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