It is not new for the public to demand transparency on how their government operates its business. A way to address this is to give them access to archived public records such as budgets, plans, and even text messages and voice calls by public employees. However, as technology advances through the years, creating new communication platforms — bringing in some difficulties for public agencies on handling public records archiving.
With the rise of new ways of communicating comes the creation of new rules and policies. As the scope of public records archiving laws became vague, the federal and state governments have established new systems and regulations that will enable them to address the issues with storing public records in this new era.
The Freedom of Information Act and most State Open Record Laws have retention policies that allow the public to access federal and state records, including employee text messages. Accordingly, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 2019 mandate requires all state governments and public agencies to create systems that allow them to capture electronic records, including mobile SMS, voice calls, and Whatsapp chats, and store them in an accessible electronic format.
Though several public agencies have implemented their own public archiving laws, a few still stumble upon difficulties arising from myths associated with storing records – explicitly concerning the effective retention of mobile communication. An example of a misconception on public records archiving is that a government organization can rely on carrier networks on retaining their mobile communications. This should give the public an idea that recordkeeping is done by the government organization, as carrier networks are not obliged to retain records of their customer’s mobile communications. It has also been clear that most established networks in the U.S. only keep the messages’ metadata, but do not keep the contents of a message.
Demanding a government or a public agency of transparency may be the right of the public, but knowing the scope and limits of that right is the public’s duty. Thus, knowing the right process and the laws governing your right to information is a must for you to practice it. This infographic by Telemessage details some of the common misconceptions about public records archiving.