Massachusetts

Because Massachusetts public records laws consider public “all . . . documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics,” G.L. c. 4, § 7, cl. 26; 950 CMR 32:03, it includes all government records generated, received or maintained electronically, including computer records, electronic mail, and computerized records. All e-mail created or received by an employee of a government unit is a public record. SPR Bulletin No. 1-99 (Feb. 16, 1999; revised and reissued May 21, 2003). The Massachusetts Public Records Division requires all government offices to establish written policies regarding electronic communication.

A reporter’s public records request for e-mail in March 2009 revealed that Gov. Deval Patrick’s aides guided a state senator into a new position at a supposedly independent state authority, with a $175,000 salary and a job description tailored so as not to require the technical expertise she lacked. The reporter received e-mail correspondence contradicting the officials’ public statements insisting the senator’s hiring was not related to her political support. Also in 2009, a Massachusetts resident filed a public records request seeking printed copies of electronic communication between Worcester city officials after he saw city councilors text-messaging each other during an open meeting. The city informed him that his request was overly broad. A council committee later said that although councilors could keep their devices on during meetings, they should not communicate electronically during a meeting with five or more colleagues at the same time, leaving the broader texting question somewhat open.

According to the Massachusetts Public Records Division, the state has not yet adopted formal standards for the storage, retrieval and maintenance of long-term electronic records, but many municipalities and governments have voluntarily adopted individual policies for retention of electronic messages.