Public Records Laws and Social Media Retention in
Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law and Social Media
The Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law governs social media records in Pennsylvania. The Law requires that agencies retain records “regardless of physical form,” including “information stored or maintained electronically.” Under this definition, social media records do qualify as public records.
Pennsylvania Law Text
Excerpt from Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.
Section 102. Definitions.
“Public record.” A record, including a financial record, of a Commonwealth or local agency that: (1) is not exempt under section 708; (2) is not exempt from being disclosed under any other Federal or State law or regulation or judicial order or decree; or (3) is not protected by a privilege.
“Record.” Information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that documents a transaction or activity of an agency and that is created, received or retained pursuant to law or in connection with a transaction, business or activity of the agency. The term includes a document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film or sound recording, information stored or maintained electronically and a data-processed or image-processed document.
Specific Guidance from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records
The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records includes guidance on the Right-to-Know Law. The document states that all records are presumed to be public records and specifies that “e-mails can also be a form of public records.” This policy supports the requirement that social media records in Pennsylvania be retained as public records.
Pennsylvania Citizen's Guide to the Right-to-Know Law
Excerpt from the Citizen’s Guide to the Right-to-Know Law.
A record is defined as “any information regardless of its physical form or character that documents a transaction or activity of an agency and is created, received, or retained pursuant to law OR in connection with a transaction, business or activity of an agency” (emphasis added).
Records can take many forms, including papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, film or sound recordings, information stored or maintained electronically, and data-processed or image-processed documents. Note that e-mails can also be a form of public records, subject to any exceptions.
Pennsylvania Social Media Records Management in Practice
The City of Philadelphia has a comprehensive social media use policy in place. Their policy governs the retention of social media records, stipulating that “all postings may be subject to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act.” This policy provides a clear example of how social media records in Pennsylvania should be handled.
City of Philadelphia's Social Media Policy
Excerpt from the City of Philadelphia Social Media Use Policy.
4 STANDARDS FOR USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA
4.c.ii.6. All postings may be subject to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, the open records provisions in Section 5-1100 of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter and Mayor’s Executive Order No. 6-92, and other public records and disclosure laws, as well as discovery in litigation. This includes, but is not limited to, information made available through a user’s privacy settings on their own social media and other Internet pages.
4.2 Records Retention
Social media content is subject to the Records Retention and Destruction Schedule established by the Department of Records for the agency, whether or not the social media is currently posted on the agency’s site(s). Agencies are responsible for making and retaining such postings, as required by the agency’s Records Retention and Destruction Schedule.
Social Media Record Retention Legal News in Pennsylvania
Read about Pennsylvania cases and precedents involving social media and public record retention.
Pennsylvania Office of Open Records rules that social media is a public record in Pennsylvania
A resident submitted a records request to the Borough of Chambersburg for social media content deleted from the Mayor’s Facebook page related to a discussion over a mural. After appeals, the case escalated to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, which ruled that social media is a public record because the Mayor was conducting public business on his Facebook page.
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