Parnell Keeps Text Messages Secret

Governor Parnell’s staff is standing by a decision not to preserve or make public any information sent as text messages – from one cell phone to another.

The practice was revealed a month ago in a story done by the Anchorage Daily News in which a former Parnell employee charged that text messages were used to avoid public disclosure of what might otherwise be available for scrutiny.

The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hollis French, today released a legal opinion by a legislative attorney that explained that state law defines public records as  “books, papers, files, accounts, writings including drafts and memorializations of conversations and other items regardless of format or physical characteristics.”

French says that the technology doesn’t relate to the point of the law.

The public expects that written records – in whatever form they take place – whether it’s a Facebook message, an e-mail, a text message – should be saved so they can reveal the work of their government.  That’s the idea, and as technology changes,  we just have to make sure that the law stays abreast of those changes.

In an e-mailed comment, Parnell’s press secretary Sharon Leighow said,  “Text messages are transitory and are not saved.  The administration does not consider text messages public records.”

French says that’s an unfortunate interpretation of an increasingly common means of communications.

The whole point of the public records act is to allow the public to see the decisions of government captured in whatever form they take place.  More and more people are going to text messaging.  It’s functionally identical to an e-mail.  So I think the governor and his staff should rethink their position.

The state Supreme Court is expected to weigh-in — indirectly — on the dispute when it issues a decision of whether state business transacted on private e-mail accounts are subject to the state’s Public Records Act.

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