Alabama Public Records Law & Social Media
Social media records fall under Title 41, chapter 13 of the code of Alabama, which defines public records law in Alabama. This statute states “public records” shall include all written, typed or printed books, papers, letters, documents and maps made or received in pursuance of law by the public officers of the state, counties, municipalities and other subdivisions of government in the transactions of public business. Title 36, chapter 12 gives every citizen the right to, “inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state.”
View Code of Alabama text
Excerpt from Code of Alabama 1975 published by the Alabama Legislature
Public records defined.
As used in this article, the term “public records” shall include all written, typed or printed books, papers, letters, documents and maps made or received in pursuance of law by the public officers of the state, counties, municipalities and other subdivisions of government in the transactions of public business and shall also include any record authorized to be made by any law of this state belonging or pertaining to any court of record or any other public record authorized by law or any paper, pleading, exhibit or other writing filed with, in or by any such court, office or officer.
Rights of citizens to inspect and copy public writings; exceptions.
Every citizen has a right to inspect and take a copy of any public writing of this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by statute. Provided however, registration and circulation records and information concerning the use of the public, public school or college and university libraries of this state shall be exempted from this section. Provided further, any parent of a minor child shall have the right to inspect the registration and circulation records of any school or public library that pertain to his or her child. Notwithstanding the foregoing, records concerning security plans, procedures, assessments, measures, or systems, and any other records relating to, or having an impact upon, the security or safety of persons, structures, facilities, or other infrastructures, including without limitation information concerning critical infrastructure (as defined at 42 U.S.C. §5195c(e) as amended) and critical energy infrastructure information (as defined at 18 C.F.R. §388.113(c)(1) as amended) the public disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to be detrimental to the public safety or welfare, and records the disclosure of which would otherwise be detrimental to the best interests of the public shall be exempted from this section. Any public officer who receives a request for records that may appear to relate to critical infrastructure or critical energy infrastructure information, shall notify the owner of such infrastructure in writing of the request and provide the owner an opportunity to comment on the request and on the threats to public safety or welfare that could reasonably be expected from public disclosure on the records.
Guidance from the Alabama Local Government Records Commission
In October of 2013, the Local Government Records Commission issued a revised Records Disposition Authority (RDA) for municipalities which outlined the public records law preservation and retention requirements for social media records in Alabama. This document indicates the need to capture records of social media sites whenever changes are made (which, given the live nature of social media, is all the time) and that these records should be classified as “Permanent” for retention purposes. In a Resource Manual for Alabama Regulatory Boards and Commissions (Section Eight: Public Records), it is stated that “Public records encompass records in all types of media, including electronic format.”
View the RDA guidance
Excerpt from “Municipalities Records Disposition Authority” published by the Local Governments Records Comission
Websites and Social Media Sites (17.14). Many Alabama towns and cities have developed web sites for responding to public inquiries and providing information on municipal affairs. More recently, they have begun to develop social media sites, which are included in this edition of the RDA. Material on these sites may include: information on the municipality’s location, population, demography; organization and officials, economic, cultural, and educational resources; transitory information on municipal events; and other information describing the town or city’s “way of life.” In order to provide documentation of this record over time, the proposed disposition calls for a “snapshot” the site to be retained as often as significant changes are made.
17.14 Websites and Social Media Sites. Municipalities develop websites and social media sites for responding to public inquiries and providing information on municipal affairs. Material on the sites may include: information on the municipality’s location, population, demography; organization and officials; economic, cultural, and educational resources; transitory information on municipal events; and other information describing the town or city’s “way of life.” PERMANENT Preserve a complete copy of site annually, or as often as significant changes are made.
Alabama Social Media Records Management in Practice
The City of Florence has a social media policy that clearly indicates that social media records in Alabama are subject to Alabama Public Records Law and must be maintained as public information accordingly. The policy reads, “[a]ny content maintained in a social media format that is related to City business, including a list of subscribers, posted communication, and communication submitted for posting, may be a public record subject to public disclosure.”
View City of Florence's Social Media Policy
Excerpt from City of Florence Social Media Policy:
V. On-The-Job Use
c. Social media content shall adhere to applicable laws, regulations, and policies, including all information technology and records management policies.
(1) Content is subject to public records laws. Relevant records retention schedules apply to social media content.
(2) Content must be managed, stored, and retrieved to comply with open records laws and e-discovery laws and policies.