TALLAHASSEE — Attorney General Bill McCollum on Wednesday will convene the first of three sessions designed to teach public officials that when they use instant messaging and social networking to discuss public business, it's still a public record.
The seminars will bring together some of the state's premier open government experts — and the technology staffers at several state agencies — to discuss how best to retain communication between public officials in the era of social networking and instant messaging.
"We're doing myth-busting and understanding the technology," said Joe Jacquot, McCollum's chief of staff, whom the attorney general appointed last month to head up a Sunshine Technology Team to explore the open government requirements of using emerging technology.
Jacquot said that it has become "something of an urban legend'' for state workers to assume that just because they're communicating via text messaging or private BlackBerry messaging codes known as PINs that their records cannot by captured and recorded under the state Sunshine law.
The Times/Herald reported last month that the staff at the state's utility regulator, the Public Service Commission, had given their BlackBerry PIN codes to officials at Florida Power & Light in the midst of several pending cases. When the newspapers asked for the records, PSC officials said they were not captured and not available.
In the wake of the reports, McCollum announced that his agency had adopted a policy to retain all BlackBerry PIN messages and BlackBerry text messages like all other public records. Gov. Charlie Crist and the PSC, by contrast, told their technology staff to shut down the PIN messaging functions on agency BlackBerrys.
Open government experts invited to the briefing sessions include First Amendment Foundation director Barbara Petersen; First Amendment lawyer Florence Snyder; Sandra Chance, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information; Joe Adams, a Jacksonville editorial writer and editor of the Public Records Handbook; and Sharyn Smith, former assistant attorney general for Bob Shevin who worked on Florida's original Sunshine laws.
Also at Wednesday's session will be a representative from Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry. The second briefing session next month will focus on messaging using voice-over-the-Internet technology, and the third session will focus on retaining messages from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.