Freedom of Information Hits a Texting Snag

Admit it. You text your mother more than you call her. 

Most cell phone users use text messaging as their primary mode of communication. Actual phone conversations have diminished, and even email is declining in the workplace, especially for those terse one-word or phrase exchanges. Efficiency is king.

But efficiency doesn't necessarily provide a paper trail, which is a problem for government offices whose employees use their cellphones to exchange messages but are still subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Government Executive lends some light on the problem: 

...state and local governments have found that preserving and archiving text messages can be highly difficult since those messages are hosted on multiple personal devices instead of on one central computer server. 

Tacoma's The News Tribune:

Like most cities, Tacoma has no consistent method to ensure the preservation and disclosure of text messages.

So what's a state to do? And more than likely, there is important information citizens should have access to falling into the abyss of a byzantine cell phone message storage system. Even secretive characters like Florida's Governor Rick Scott think that maybe something should be done about it:

In Florida, where open-government advocates have complained that the administration of Gov. Rick Scott has “set the clock back on Florida’s open records tradition” through the use of private email accounts to discuss public business, the governor’s office says “it now discourages the use of text messaging by employees because text messages are hard to catalog due to the digital nature of the message,” according to a recent report in The Miami Herald.

So expect more government agencies to ask their employees to stay off their phone. 

But – let's be honest – how likely is that to happen?

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