Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wisconsin Supreme Court to Decide: Are personal emails on publicly-owned computers private?

In a case that could have far-reaching consequences for the state's open records laws, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to potentially decide whether the personal emails of public employees - written on government computers - are exempt from the state's open records' laws. The justices have heard oral arguments in the case, Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School District, in which five teachers are seeking to block release of their personal emails. In April 2007, a citizen, Don Bubolz, sent the district an open records' request for all emails from the teachers' school computers for the period March 1, 2007, through April 13, 2007. The school district subsequently notified the teachers it would release the emails. The teachers filed suit in circuit court to stop the district from doing so. They lost in that venue but, represented by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, appealed. The union asserts that private emails, which the school district acknowledges these were, cannot be construed as public records under the statutes. On April 30, 2009, the court of appeals certified the case to the Supreme Court "to determine if the employees' personal emails are public records and if they are, whether public policy reasons outweigh the public's interest in disclosure."
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