Text Messages: Technology Necessitates Reassessment of What Qualifies as a Public Record

Most documents are unquestionably public records; however, electronic messages are more intangible and thus more difficult to categorize as public records.  Elected and appointed officials' increasing reliance on e-mail and text messages for communication requires defining the extent to which these are public records.  Since e-mail archives easily in computers, it is usually accepted as public record and many FOIA requests for e-mail correspondence are completed.  Logs of text messages sent and received are sometimes accessible in cell phone bills, but the actual message content is rarely saved for long periods of time (either by the cell phone carrier or in the phone memory).  Some believe that text messages are synonymous to verbal conversations which are impossible to document; others feel that these messages are public business especially when sent via government-issued phones or pagers. Watch for more news coverage about this debate as text messages become more mainstream.