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Public v. Private Emails – Which are Which?

December 8, 2008

Outdated Virginia Laws Lack E-mail Transparency
OMB Watch, December 2, 2008

The line separating “private” and “public” is extremely vague when it comes to e-mail accounts. Think about how many active accounts you currently have – the chances are it’s more than one. That’s not a big deal for some, but depending on what line of work you’re in, it could be extremely important to keep communication lines parallel to their proper e-mail accounts.

That’s often the case for government officials. In Loudoun County, Va. for example, arguments are swirling about the distinction between public and private e-mail. Officials have often been caught using personal e-mail accounts for businesses use, thus blurring the definition of what records are legally appropriate for public disclosure.

Put aside the questionable actions by such government leaders (whether they’re intentionally harmful or not), it’s important to understand the complexity of them. While the public often has a right to know the content in which government officials communicate about, it’s a tricky situation to label what’s available to them. Electronic records management is obviously causing headaches across the country, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t enforce stricter standards and implement penalties on those who don’t live up to them.

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