Government officials using emails and text messages to handle public business in Ohio had best avoid apps and software that instantly or automatically delete their digital communications.
Under state law, no public records can be destroyed unless authorized by a public office’s records retention schedule that specifies how long records must be kept before they are destroyed.
And, if electronic messages are illegally deleted, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled a decade ago that government officials must pay the costs of attempting to recover them and, if successful, turn them over for inspection.
A public official’s use of an app that automatically destroys a digital or electronic public record would violate state law, said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio News Media Association.
“It is clear under Ohio law, as it should be, that the nature of the content of the communications, not the device or server used, should determine if it is a public record. That includes emails and text messages. There are many easy, best practices that public officials can and should follow to make sure these records are preserved,” said Hetzel, also president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government.