The Real Paul Jones

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Should IMs be public records?

Jimbo found out the hard way what happens when private IMs go public. In a few minutes, I’ll be down at UNC General Administration talking about IM and law. I made this table of IM and IM-like services with the help of my Tweet-buddies.

I donno how much of this will be public, but I’m interested in what you think. Should IM conversations amongst state employees be subject to public records law? Should we be required to archive them? Should they be subject to discovery?


  1. What is the reasoning behind the idea that IM would not be covered the same as all other text-based communication? If you type words and they’re read by someone else, what does it matter how those words got in front of the recipient’s eyeballs.

  2. RE: Michael’s comment: I think what matters is how the data relates to personal matters and to business matters.

    It is a sticky issue that hopefully will continue to fly under the radar at my work. I don’t want people archiving my gchat logs or monitoring our interoffice communication.

    Keep us updated smalls.

  3. Sure wish you’d podcast that talk.
    I’m presenting a paper in a couple of week and the thrust of it is “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Currently, the legal issue is not whether the IMs should or should not be public records, but does the person who is IMing have a reasonable expectation of privacy? It would most likely bear out that for public servants, they should not have that expectation.

    Here are the “four factors” that I think were established in O’Connor v. Ortega 1987 (but I’m double-checking that now): (1) does the corporation maintain a policy banning personal or other objectionable use, (2) does the company monitor the use of the employee’s computer or e-mail, (3) do third parties have a right of access to the computer or e-mails, and (4) did the corporation notify the employee, or was the employee aware, of the use and monitoring policies.”


  4. Nope, the email is not in O’Connor v. Ortega, but it is that case in which it is decided that “Given the great variety of work environments in the public sector, the question whether an employee has a reasonable expectation of privacy must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.”
    Should Jimmy-boy have had a reasonable expectation of privacy?

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