Closed Doors: Should Government Officials Ever Use Private Communications?

Stephen Henderson speaks with Associate Professor of Law at Wayne State University John Rothchild about Detroit’s digital transparency problems.  Professor Rothchild is an expert on law enforcement efforts addressing Internet-based fraud and online compliance issues and examines the recently discovered use of private emails in Mike Duggan’s administration.  Stephen and Professor Rothchild discuss what kind of implications come with the use of private communications and how it affects the people they’re supposed to be serving.

  • Freedom of information: Stephen notes that government communications are publicly accessible through the Freedom of Information Act but questions what happens with private emails because a third party provider is involved. Rothchild relates that while emails and digital communications are within the scope of the act under the law, private emails are a bit unclear. He says that in most cases officials are willing to turn over their private emails when they relate to official business, but the public’s access to this information isn’t clearly stated.
  • Employers Vs. Employees: Rothchild also notes that there’s a difficulty for government and public sector employers and employees when private emails are used for business. The data becomes less accessible when it isn’t present on official servers, and there can be complications when an employee leaves the business and takes official data with them. The Freedom of Information Act can require government employees to make their private emails available for screening if they used it for official business, but for private companies this isn’t the case.
  • Common Sense: Stephen wonders if it’s really just an issue with common sense. Rothchild says these officials should know and understand their data is subject to transparency, but there are still many gray zones and unclear lines when it comes to digital communications.  He believes that for any type of business, private emails shouldn’t be used simply because they lack the same levels of security and access that employer provided emails have. He also mentions that digital fraud and security are changing daily. There are many ways that fraudsters can make unsecured data susceptible to attacks or theft, so operating outside of a secure network is generally a bad idea especially for official business.

Click the audio link above to hear the full conversation.

Image credit: Wayne State

We want to hear from you.
Share your thoughts and opinions: