E-mail issues in Virginia

Christian Trejbal, a columnist for the Roanoke Times, has a very good piece up reviewing e-mail policies and practices of several county and city governments in his area, the New River Valley:

G-mail isn’t suitable for public records.

For example, in Blacksburg, some key officials use g-mail instead of a city e-mail address that they could use just as easily. As Trejbal points out, this means that when those e-mails are FOIAd, the requestor is at the mercy of the pure heart of the person whose e-mail he wants, which is not always good:

“When official e-mail goes to and comes from Yahoo, Gmail or any other private account, there is no public archive. Instead, officials must preserve their correspondence themselves and turn it over when someone like White asks for it…Even more risky, there is no guarantee an official will cough up incriminating or embarrassing e-mails. Human conscience often proves weak when a reputation or more is on the line.”

I agree with what Trejbacl says, with these extra thoughts:

  • Some municipal e-mail systems are less easy to search through than g-mail–as records requestors can attest who have been handed estimates in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars by local governments as a “search fee” to do a keyword search through their archived e-mails.
  • Many government (or corporate) servers do capture the text of e-mails written on private accounts. So, if you work for the city of Blacksburg and you sit down at your city desk, sign into your city computer and server, and then into your G-mail account, the server should capture that e-mail just as readily as it captures an e-mail you write on your official Blacksburg account.
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    2 responses to “E-mail issues in Virginia

    1. I agree with you about gmail not being a great source for government records – but on the otherhand we are always at the mercy of the quality of the search no matter where they are located.

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