Open Records laws require transparency and disclosure in government or business affairs. These include meetings, records, votes, deliberations, and other official actions for public observation, participation and/or inspection. The laws were enacted to prevent scandals by increasing accountability through transparency within governmental (or business) operations. Governments are aware of these laws and typically take the proper actions needed to provide open records and open meetings… or at least they THINK they are taking proper actions.

A government may think they are abiding by the Open Records laws but have not considered a large and glaring mistake that could impose penalties and fines. Social media and website posts as well as text messages and chat programs such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, are all considered open records in most states and could be asked to be pulled at any time. This means that all of these posts and messages need to be archived in a way that meets the open records law. This has the potential to demand much more data storage than previously perceived by the government. Data storage can become costly, especially when much storage is needed. Furthermore, keeping the posts active on the social media site and trusting the record will not get lost or deleted can become a costly mistake. There is no guarantee that these records would not get erased, either by the social site itself or worse- a hijacked account. Penalties are enforced when a government cannot comply promptly with a requested record.

This excerpt from the Georgia Open Records Laws 2014 states; “Anyone who the court finds ‘knowingly and willfully’ failed or refused to timely provide access to records not subject to exemption is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not in excess of $1,000.00. Alternatively, a court may impose a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.00 against anyone who negligently fails or refuses to timely provide access to such record. The court also may impose a criminal fine or civil penalty not in excess of $2,500.00 for each additional violation committed within a year of the first violation.”

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