You can call it irony. Or bullshit. But what you can't call it is good government. Cory Weinberg of The Information reports San Francisco legislators [warning: paywalled link] are using one of those infamous tools o' terrorism -- messaging service Telegram -- to dodge open records requests. [Link to a non-paywalled story covering the same thing]
In an interview, a San Francisco government staff member said they were encouraged to use the app by colleagues in City Hall who described it as a way to skirt the city’s public records laws. “That is exactly what it’s being used for,” the staff member said. “It’s caught on.”Yes, messaging apps are great for instant communications. Self-destructingmessages, however, are antithetical to public records laws. Also: possibly illegal. Veneracion loves instachat. Keeping up with her obligations to the public? Not so much.
April Veneracion, a top aide to Supervisor Jane Kim and a Telegram user, said one reason officials use the app is because it “self destructs.” She also praised the app’s chat room feature that “allows us to be in touch with each other almost instantaneously.”
She said she didn’t know if it violated the city or state’s public records laws. “I should find out though!” she wrote in a message.Unfortunately, those who are on top of public records laws aren't exactly sure either.
San Francisco’s public records law doesn’t address new forms of electronic communication like encrypted or ephemeral messaging apps, but it “has become an ongoing topic of discussion” on the Board of Supervisors’ Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, said the task force’s administrator Victor Young.Presumably, these discussions are being preserved. (Not that it matters. Most deliberative discussions fall under public records exemptions.)
San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin, who has been seen by The Information as active on the app, didn’t return requests for comment. One government official said Supervisor Kim also uses Telegram. She didn’t return requests for comment.Legislators and government employees aren't allowed to choose which laws to comply with any more than the rest of us. (Theoretically...) Communications between government employees that are subject to open records requests need to be carried out on platforms where they can be searched and archived. This means no use of Telegram, just like it means no setting up your own private email server.
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