One of the key battlegrounds for public access to electronic records, in Indiana and around the country, involves email accounts of public officials.

Journalists have found major revelations in officials’ emails, such as alleged misconduct by former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. It is well established under Indiana law that official emails are public records.

But according to Hoosier State Press Association Executive Director Stephen Key, public officials might be tempted to use private email accounts or exchange text messages to avoid public scrutiny.

It’s easy for someone to walk into a city hall and ask for the mayor’s emails, he said, but that person couldn’t show up at the mayor’s house and get access to a personal computer and email account.

Key thinks the legislature needs to draw up language that clarifies the use of private email for official communication.

“The difficulty becomes one of passing a statute that takes care of some of the technology advancements while balancing the line between what the public should have the right to have when it comes to public officials,” Key said.

But Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said officials shouldn’t think private email addresses provide a way to get around the open records law. He said if an official uses a private email, messages related to public business are disclosable, though the address itself could be withheld.

This story is part of a project exploring digital access to local government information in Indiana. Click here to return to the main project page.