The Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) grants everyone a statutory right to access records of a governmental body unless disclosure would violate the law. Generally, TPIA is construed broadly to favor disclosure, but the rise of modern technology like email and text messaging reveals how dated TPIA truly is. According to the recent City of Dallas v. Dallas Morning News, LP, a governmental body is not required to release any business-related electronic communications sent via personal devices. This means governmental employees can conduct official business via personal email or cell phone without being subject to disclosure provisions, unless the requester establishes the governmental body’s right to the information. Under TPIA, records are classified as “public” based on physical properties as well as their content. This definition creates problems when a person conducts business via private email or personal cell phone. Dallas Morning News held TPIA required the requesting party to establish the rights of the governmental body to the information, yet this burden contradicts the TPIA’s stated policy in favor of disclosure. Dallas Morning News proved the TPIA, in its current state, can no longer effectively serve the public policy of providing Texans the opportunity to properly inform themselves about government affairs. The Act’s amorphous definition of public information may have once been enough but fails to meet the needs of modern society. The decision whether the TPIA requires disclosure should not be based solely on where information is stored and whether the governmental body has access to the information. Minor alterations to the Act could explain when governmental bodies have a right to personal communications and when those communications must be disclosed. If requestors cannot have access to media where records are stored, then the idea of open government becomes meaningless.
St. Mary's University School of Law
Alexander J. Yoakum,
Technical Problem: How City of Dallas v. Dallas Morning News, LP Exposed a Major Loophole in the Texas Public Information Act Comment.,
St. Mary's L.J.
Available at: https://commons.stmarytx.edu/thestmaryslawjournal/vol42/iss1/4
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