Investigations

Pennsylvania lacks rules for saving electronic records

How easy is it for your local government to get rid of public records that would help you make decisions and hold elected leaders accountable?

Most public records used to exist on paper, but now with so many things stored on phones and computers, hitting the delete button on that information is easier than ever.

The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records says updating the rules about when and how long government agencies are required to keep public records would protect your right to know.

Right now, different municipalities have different policies on how often they tape over meeting videos and delete emails, audio recordings, or surveillance video. By the time you request those records to get a better understanding of how your government is working, they may not exist.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission issues guidance on record retention and has rules for state agencies, but Erik Arneson, the executive director of the Office of Open Records, says he'd like to see lawmakers make legislative changes to specifically address digital records so everyone's operating under the same modern set of rules.

"Record retention is about as boring a topic as I can possibly imagine," Arneson said. "However, it is absolutely critical to being able to have good responses coming out under the Right to Know Law and in other circumstances."

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission says this is a tricky issue because things like emails can be considered public records, but not always.

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Online:

Governor's office records management directive

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission email management guidelines

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission electronic records guidelines

 


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