Wisconsin government employees can safely send personal e-mail messages on their work computers without worrying that they will have to make them public, under a ruling Friday by the state Supreme Court.
The court ruled that just because a public employee uses a work computer to send an e-mail, it doesn’t automatically make that message subject to the state open records law. The 5-2 decision overturns a lower court’s ruling that ordered five Wisconsin Rapids School District teachers to turn over private messages. […]
No state has ruled that private e-mails should be subject to open records disclosure, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said in her majority ruling.
“While government business is to be kept open, the contents of employees’ personal e-mails are not a part of government business,” she said. […]
The dissenting justices cautioned that the ruling will provide a blanket exception for government workers to sidestep the open records law simply by claiming their e-mails are personal.
“This broad exception prevents the public from discovering what public employees are doing during the workday, in the workplace, using equipment purchased with public funds,” said Justice Patience Roggensack. “In so doing, the court contravenes Wisconsin’s long history of transparency in and public access to actions of government employees.”