Is California Reversing Course on Government Transparency?

A California appeals court recently ruled that emails and other forms of electronic communication about public business are not subject to the state’s Public Records Act if they’re conducted on a private computer or device.

But the decision’s impact on government transparency policies may cause aftershocks well beyond the Golden State’s borders. The 6th District Court of Appeal in San Jose’s March 27 opinion gives elected officials and government employees a free pass to conduct public business in secret on their own devices. And with other states grappling with data retention and transparency issues, the decision could serve as a model to pull back on open government efforts over the last several years.

The 6th District Court of Appeal’s ruling overturned a lower court decision that would have enabled a citizen to obtain messages sent on private devices through private accounts of the San Jose mayor and city council members. The California Supreme Court may take up the case, but if it doesn’t, the 6th District’s decision would stand, creating a precedent for similar situations in the future.


Is California Reversing Course on Government Transparency?