Alabama Public Records Law & Social Media
Social media records in Alabama fall under Title 36, chapter 12 of the code of Alabama, which governs the maintenance of public records. This statute requires “public officers and servants to accurately maintain and preserve from loss, destruction, etc., complete books, papers, files, etc.” and 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 officers and servants to accurately maintain and preserve from loss, destruction, etc., complete books, papers, files, etc.
All public officers and servants shall correctly make and accurately keep in and for their respective offices or places of business all such books or sets of books, documents, files, papers, letters and copies of letters as at all times shall afford full and detailed information in reference to the activities or business required to be done or carried on by such officer or servant and from which the actual status and condition of such activities and business can be ascertained without extraneous information, and all of the books, documents, files, papers, letters, and copies of letters so made and kept shall be carefully protected and safely preserved and guarded from mutilation, loss or destruction.
(Acts 1915, No. 237, p. 287, § 1; Code 1923, §2690; Code 1940, T. 41, §139.)
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.
(Code 1923, §2695; Code 1940, T. 41, §145; Acts 1983, No. 83-565, p. 866, §3; Act 2004-487, p. 906, §1.)
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 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 an earlier document from 2003, the commission clarifies that the Alabama public records law applies to all storage formats, including electronic media.
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 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:
9. All City social media sites shall adhere to applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and policies.
10. City social media sites are subject to the Alabama Public Records Law. Any 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.