The director of Iowa’s Public Information Board is advising Iowa public officials to scrap Snapchat. We think that’s good advice, and a timely reminder that digital communications are public records.
Director Margaret Johnson has written a proposed advisory opinion urging elected officials and government employees to not use Snapchat and other smartphone apps that automatically delete communications. Those deleted exchanges could be public records. The full board is expected to take up the proposal at its April 16 meeting, according to The Des Moines Register.
It was a Register investigation that prompted the welcome advice. The paper found 16 Iowa elected officials who use apps that automatically delete content.
It’s the latest effort to make sure Iowa’s laws guaranteeing Iowans access to public records and meetings keep up with rapidly evolving technology. It’s been an uphill battle as easily discarded and hidden digital communications replace hard copy documents.
That effort is highly relevant now, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces government entities and agencies at all levels to use digital tools to communicate as Iowans comply with social distancing edicts. Much government business is being done in conference calls and video meetings, through emails and texts and on social media.
These practices make sense in a public health crisis. But an emergency situation shouldn’t allow officials to skirt or skip the legal necessity of preserving public records and deliberations that lead to policy.
Iowans still have a right to know what their government is doing and how decisions are being made. At a time when state and local officials are addressing life and death issues, transparency is even more vital.
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It’s still their duty to preserve records and provide public information to Iowans on actions that affect them. It’s an obligation and a public trust that not even a pandemic can automatically delete.
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