Georgia Open Records Act, Sunshine Laws, & Social Media
Social media records in Georgia are governed by the Georgia Open Records Act. This requires that government agencies preserve public records, including “computer based or generated information.” The Act specifically addresses “electronic messages, whether in the form of e-mail, text message, or other format” as public record. This definition would include social media records in Georgia.
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Excerpts from The Open Records Act
(1) ‘Agency shall have the same meaning as in Code Section 50-14-1 and shall additionally include any association, corporation, or other similar organization that has a membership or ownership body composed primarily of counties, municipal corporations, or school districts of this state, their officers, or any combination thereof and derives more than 33 1/3 percent of its general operating budget from payments from such political subdivisions.
(2) ‘Public record’ means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, data, data fields, or similar material prepared and maintained or received by an agency or by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of an agency or when such documents have been transferred to a private person or entity by an agency for storage or future governmental use.
(g) Requests to inspect or copy electronic messages, whether in the form of e-mail, text message, or other format, should contain information about the messages that is reasonably calculated to allow the recipient of the request to locate the messages sought, including, if known, the name, title, or office of the specific person or persons whose electronic messages are sought and, to the extent possible, the specific data bases to be searched for such messages.
Guidance from the Attorney General on the Georgia Open Records Act
The State Attorney General of Georgia has issued guidelines that clarify the State open records policy. This document specifies that the Georgia Open Records Act “designates ‘computer records’ as public records subject to the law.” This qualifies social media records in Georgia as public records under the Law.
View the Georgia Attorney General's Guide to Georgia's Sunshine Laws
Principles of openness in government are found in the Constitution of Georgia, the common-law of the State of Georgia, and our state statutes. The two Acts that apply to most meetings and records are known as the “Sunshine Laws.” These consist of the Open and Public Meetings Act (O.C.G.A. §§ 50-14-1 through 6) and the Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. §§ 50-18-70 through 76).
The starting place under Georgia law for citizens seeking to attend meetings of governmental bodies or to inspect governmental records is the presumption that the meetings and records are open. For instance, O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1 (b) states: “Except as otherwise provided by law, all meetings … shall be open to the public …” Similarly, O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(b) provides: “All public records … except [as otherwise provided] shall be open for a personal inspection by any citizen of this state at a reasonable time and place; and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen.”
Georgia Social Media Records Management in Practice
The City of Johns Creek has a comprehensive social media policy that addresses compliance with the Georgia Open Records Act and Sunshine Laws. The policy states that social media records in Georgia must adhere to “laws and policies regarding copyright, records retention, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Georgia Open Records Act, First Amendment, privacy laws, sunshine laws and information security policies.”
View the Johns Creek Social Media Policy
Excerpt from the City of Johns Creek Social Media Policy.
k. Departments that use social media are responsible for complying with applicable federal, state and city laws, regulations and policies. This includes adherence to established laws and policies regarding copyright, records retention, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Georgia Open Records Act, First Amendment, privacy laws, sunshine laws and information security policies established by the City of Johns Creek, its departments, affiliated boards, commissions and authorities.