I received a disturbing note this week from an anonymous state government employee. This person contacted me about how individuals in his/her agency were using gmail accounts and Dropbox-type clouds to discuss public business.
I explained how Virginia's FOIA cares about the content of the public record, not necessarily where it was sent from or received by. That is, even if gmail and Dropbox are being used, the records there are still subject to disclosure if they deal with public business. The key, I said, was to make sure those sources were searched for records responsive to a FOIA request.
Here was the employee's response:
"I suspect that agencies aren't searching private emails under FOIA. It's pretty easy to deny that you are using private emails for state business, isn't it? And, if someone requests private emails, the delete button probably goes into overdrive.
"At my agency, iPads are now in use and users are told that the iPads bought with state funds are their "personal property." These iPads are not on state property records. Gmail goes through them and iPhones. Our agency has been overrun with temporary employees and interns that answer only to the Director. They aren't even given a state email address--just told to use gmail.
"I personally think this trend will grow and the public will know less and less about how decisions are made and what information is made available to decision makers.
"I guess I just have to hope that open government advocates think this through."
And this comes on the heels of Frederick County Board of Supervisors' recent announcement that it will join the paperless bandwagon by using iPads for meeting agendas/materials.
Technology isn't the enemy. What is problematic is government use of new technology without thinking through the possible impact on government records, government meetings and the public's right to know.
The people and the press must stay vigilant to prevent abuses like the one the employee above anticipated.
What do you think?