South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Personal E-mails of State Employees on Public Computers Not Subject to Public Disclosure
Description The Florida high court held that personal e-mails sent or received by state or local employees on government computers are not subject to disclosure as public records. The employees could, without supervision, sort their e-mails into public and private categories.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words E-mail; Privacy; Public Record
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Times Publishing requested that the City of Clearwater, Florida, provide copies of all e-mails sent from or received by two employees of the city during a specific period. Under city rules, the two employees were allowed to sort the e-mails into two categories, personal and public. No one except for the two employees reviewed that sorting process. The city then allowed the newspaper to see the e-mails categorized as public. The newspaper sued to obtain all e-mails. As this issue had not been raised before, the court asked the state supreme court what the law was on this matter.
Decision

Personal e-mails by state employees on state computers are not public records and so are not subject to disclosure. Records subject to public disclosure are limited to those made or received pursuant to court rule, law or ordinance, or in connection with the transaction of official business. The nature of the record, not its physical location, is the critical factor. The city's policy that its computers were city property and that users had no expectation of privacy did not expand the definition of public records subject to disclosure to include personal e-mails on the computers.

Citation State v. City of Clearwater, --- So.2d --- (2003 WL 22097478, Sup. Ct., Fla., 2003)

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