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    National Public Radio: Do Smart Phones Thwart Public Records Laws?

    NPR reports on problems some states are having coordinating new technology with public record laws:

    State leaders in Florida are in a battle with technology: new forms of communications that make it difficult for public officials to follow the law.

    The state has one of the best government public record laws in the country. Virtually every public document is accessible to the public. And though the state is embracing the perks of advanced technology — the Legislature just started piloting the use of electronic meeting packets, instead of printing them on paper — the use of cell phones and BlackBerrys is causing concern. It’s simply too difficult to archive all communications.

    E-mails sent from a BlackBerry are easily tracked and archived by government servers. But the wireless devices can also send electronic messages in another way called “PINing,” and those communications often are not tracked. The practice stirred controversy last summer when staff members of Florida’s Public Service Commission were caught exchanging PIN messages with a lobbyist for a utility it regulates. […]

    State Sen. Mike Fasano remembers that at a committee meeting last year on property insurance, a lobbyist in the audience was sending to a senator’s BlackBerry questions to ask the office of insurance regulation. “That is, in my opinion, way out of line,” Fasano says. […]

    Florida law already covers electronic communications, noting that any discussion that has to do with public issues is a public record. Open-government experts say it just comes down to enforcement and hope that governments can keep up with the changes in technology.

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