Mississippi Public Records Act & Social Media
The Mississippi Public Records Act governs the preservation of public records that are “in use, prepared, possessed, or retained” by any public body, “regardless of physical form or characteristics.” This qualifies social media records in Mississippi as public records.
Show Mississippi law text
Excerpt from Mississippi Public Records Act
§ 25-61-3. Definitions
(b) “Public records” shall mean all books, records, papers, accounts, letters, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes, recordings or reproductions thereof, and any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed or retained for use in the conduct, transaction or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function of any public body, or required to be maintained by any public body.
Guidance from the Mississippi Ethics Committee
In guidance from the Mississippi Ethics committee, the Public Records Act governs public records that fit the following characteristics: “a ‘documentary material ‘used’ ‘in the conduct of’ some governmental function.” Under this broad interpretation, the document includes e-mail specifically as being qualified as a public record which suggests social media records in Mississippi can be considered public.
View the Mississippi Ethics Committee Guidance
Excerpt from the Mississippi Model Public Records Rules With Comment from the Mississippi Ethics Committee
Comments to Rule No. 3. 3.1. “Public record” defined.
The statutory definition of a “public record” contains at least three main elements. The document must be: A “documentary material” “used” “in the conduct” of some governmental function.
(1) Documentary materials. A “public record” can be any “documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Section 25-61-3(a). Public records include “all books, records, papers, accounts, letters, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes, recordings or reproductions thereof.” Id. E-mails are “documentary materials.”
(2) “Used” by a public body. A “public record” is a record “having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed or retained for use” by a public body. Id.
(3) The “conduct” of a governmental function. To be a “public record,” a document must be used in the “conduct, transaction or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function of any public body, or required to be maintained by any public body.” Id. Almost all records held by a public body relate to the conduct of government; however, some do not. A purely personal record having absolutely no relation to the conduct of government is not a “public record.”
A record can be “used” by a public body even if the public body does not actually possess the record. If a public body uses a record in its decision-making process it is a “public record.” For example, if a public body considered technical specifications of a public works project and returned the specifications to the contractor in another state, the specifications would be a “public record” because the public body “used” the document in its decision-making process. The public body could be required to obtain the public record, unless doing so would be impossible. A public body should not send its only copy of a record to a third party for the sole purpose of avoiding disclosure.
Sometimes public body employees work on public body business from home computers. These home computer records (including e-mail) were “used” by the public body and relate to the “conduct” of public business so they are “public records” and are subject to disclosure (unless exempt). Agencies should instruct employees that all public records, regardless of where they were created, should eventually be stored on public body computers. Agencies should ask employees to keep public body-related documents on home computers in separate folders and to routinely blind carbon copy (“bcc”) work e-mails back to the employee’s public body e-mail account. If the public body receives a request for records that are solely on employees’ home computers, the public body should direct the employee to forward any responsive documents back to the public body, and the public body should process the request as it would if the records were on the public body’s computers.
Mississippi Social Media Records Management in Practice
The City of Greenville social media policy provides guidelines for appropriate use of social media networks. The policy reminds employees that “any information that is shared online instantly becomes permanent and public” due to the nature of of the Internet. While this advice does not specifically address social media records in Mississippi as being public and subject to retention laws, it does address the public nature of the communication tool. Any partial social media policy that does not consider records retention requirements may leave a public agency at risk of legal headaches.
View City of Greenville Social Media Policy
Excerpt from the City of Greenville Social Media Use Policy
This Policy is intended to provide employees with guidelines for appropriate online activity. Although this Policy cannot address every instance of inappropriate social media use, it is intended to offer guidelines to employees, thereby helping employees to avoid potentially costly missteps online. The nature of the Internet is such that what you “say” online will be captured forever and can be transmitted endlessly without your consent or knowledge. Employees should remember that any information that is shared online instantly becomes permanent and public. Employees should be aware that, while certain types of speech may be subject to protection under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the City does have the right to discipline an employee whose comments may affect the efficiency of the public services by the City.