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Can a government body withhold the email addresses that members of a board or commission use to conduct government business?

Question: 

Can a government body withhold the email addresses that members of a board or commission use to conduct government business?

 
Answer: 

 

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) issued an advisory opinion on this issue on July 19, 2018 (IPIB AO 2018-06).  

The IPIB reviewed the statutory language of Iowa Code section 22.11(a), which allows for certain personal information in personnel records to be considered a confidential record.  The section also outlines information that is not considered confidential. Email addresses are not specifically listed as information that must be released.

The Iowa Supreme Court provided some guidance on the definition of ‘personal information’ in Clymer v. City of Cedar Rapids, 601 N.W.2d 42 (Iowa 1999).  In allowing the personal addresses of public employees to be withheld, the Court reasoned:

“…the basic theme emerging from the few cases dealing with disclosure of public employees’ addresses is that such information does not serve the core purpose of the freedom of information statutes – to enlighten the public about the operation or activities of the government.  Put another way, a public employee has a substantial privacy interest in his or her address that outweighs the public interest in disclosure, unless the information is necessary to open the government’s actions to the light of public scrutiny.” (at 47)

 

Applying the Clymer decision, personal email addresses of government officials and employees, like home addresses, are personal information that would not become public records upon appointment of the person to a board or other government body.  But, should personal email addresses be regularly used for public business, the email addresses may lose their “personal” nature and become public records. The IPIB cautions government bodies not to withhold personal email addresses as confidential while continuing to use the personal email addresses regularly to conduct public business.

 

The IPIB encourages government bodies to release email addresses that are used regularly as a point of communication of government business.  To the extent that government bodies object to the release of email addresses that they additionally use for unrelated personal communications, the IPIB notes that a separate email account can be created solely for the purpose of conducting government business.

 

Whether government bodies use personal email or the government email system, it is clear that the communication itself may be a public record as determined by the content.  

 

 

Printed from the website on September 24, 2020 at 3:25am.