Oregon Public Records Law & Social Media
The Oregon Public Records Law requires that government agencies preserve public records regardless of physical form, including electronic records. It also applies this requirement to every public office, officer, official, and institution.
Oregon Law Text
(4)(a) Public record includes any writing that contains information relating to the conduct of the publics business, including but not limited to court records, mortgages, and deed records, prepared, owned, used or retained by a public body regardless of physical form or characteristics.
(5) State agency means any state officer, department, board, commission or court created by the Constitution or statutes of this state but does not include the Legislative Assembly or its members, committees, officers or employees insofar as they are exempt under section 9, Article IV of the Oregon Constitution.
(6) Writing means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photographing and every means of recording, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combination thereof, and all papers, maps, files, facsimiles or electronic recordings. [1973 c.794 §2; 1989 c.377 §1; 1993 c.787 §4; 2001 c.237 §1; 2005 c.659 §4]
Social Media Records Guidelines from the Oregon Secretary of State
The Oregon Secretary of State, State Archives division offers online trainings that interpret the 2011 changes to Oregon Public Records Law and their impact on social media records in Oregon. These changes were intended “to create a definition that can deal with a technology such as social media and any new technologies that are developed down the road.”
In addition, the State E-governance Board states, “like other forms of communication, social media posts can be considered public records, and therefore subject to public record retention and inspection rules. Agencies that use social media should be prepared to retain content and to decide how to moderate comments that appear on their accounts.”
Oregon Secretary of State Training Slides
Oregon Public Records Law Training (2012)
- To create a definition that is clearly technology independent
- To create a definition that is easy to understand and apply for records retention and disposition
- To create a definition that can deal with a technology such as social media and any new technologies that are developed down the road
- To formalize the requirement of having written policies and procedures that address use, retention and ownership of public records
Oregon Social Media Records Management in Practice
The City of Portland offers a great example of a comprehensive social media policy that explicitly identifies social media content as a public record and provides guidance as to retention. The policy states “bureaus must assume that content posted or received using any Social Media technology is a public record and manage it accordingly.”
Portland's Social Media Message to Users
Record Retention Requirements for Social Media Content
Each Bureau must maintain and preserve records in compliance with the Oregon Public Records laws, ORS 192.410. et seq. Under public records law, the City is required to maintain records for the period provided in the retention schedule for that type of record. Bureaus have records retention schedules for their records. Those engaged in Social Media activities must be familiar with their Bureau’s record retention schedules and preserve records in accordance with those schedules. (Retention Schedules). The public records law applies whether the Site is hosted by the City or a third party.
Oregon House Bill 3723 A
In 2021, House Bill 3723 A was approved and passed by the Oregon House. The bill limits the scope in which institutions, including law enforcement agencies, can publish or release booking photos; often referred to as “mugshots”. HB 3723 A states that these photos may only be shared with other law enforcement agencies, or released for the purpose of locating a fugitive or suspect. The bill also explains rules for removing booking photos from publish-for-pay sites and gives citizens the right to request their photos be removed from these sites.
Public records concerns can arise when law enforcement agencies remove these photos from social media sites, or post them by mistake in the future. Without proper social media record keeping, like archiving, these agencies can easily run afoul with the Oregon Public Records Act while trying to maintain HB 3723 A compliance.