by Jack Mayne The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that a public official using a personal cell phone must give the agency they work for access to all of the deviceâ€™s records. The unanimous opinion â€“ released Thursday (Aug. 27)â€“ plugged a potential loophole fromÂ a decision made five years ago. â€œWe recognize this procedure might be criticized as too easily abused or too deferential to employees’ judgment. Certainly the same can be said of any search for public records, not just for records related to employee cell phone use . . .,â€ the court ruled. â€œSecond, those criticisms spotlight why agencies should develop ways to capture public records related to employee cell phone use . . .â€ So what is the city or other public agency to do? â€œAgencies could provide employees with an agency-issued device that the agency retains a right to access, or they could prohibit the use of personal devices altogether. That these may be more effective ways to address employee cell phone use, however, does not diminish the PRA’s (Public Record Act) directive that we liberally construe it here to promote access to all public records.â€ The ruling applies to all public employees, not just elected members of City Councils. So if, for example a city council member or a city manager uses his or her own phone to discuss city business, that call record must made available to be captured by the city (or other public agency). If the individual believes the call not to be about public business, the individual must be able to provide significant information to prove the call was not about public business, a difficult hurdle for both the city or any other public agency and for the individual public official. “Burien recognizes the need to consider such material as public records,” Burien City Manager Kamuron Gurol told The B-Town Blog. “All public agencies are needing to update policies and procedures on this to keep up with technology and legal directives.”]]>
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