All documents regardless of physical form are records available for public inspection under the open records law. 51 Okla. Stat. Supp. 2005 § 24A.3.1. E-mail in either electronic or paper form is subject to the Act. 2001 Okla. Op. Att’y Gen. 7.
A recent attorney general opinion addressed various issues related to electronic communications. Communications among legislators, whether written or electronic, are not subject to disclosure because, except for financial records, the legislature and legislators are not a “public body” covered under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
However, an e-mail created by a third-party public body or official and sent to a legislator would be a record and thus subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act. An e-mail sent by a legislator to a third-party public body or official would become a record upon receipt and would thereby be subject to disclosure under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. Also, an e-mail from an employee of the legislature would become a record upon being received by a third-party public body or official, and so would be subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act. 2008 OK AG 19.
Additionally, records of government business belong to the public even if they are created, received or stored on an official’s private smart phone or laptop, according to an Oklahoma AG opinion. 2009 OK AG 12.
Electronic messages are treated the same as paper documents in terms of retention and back-up. However, an agency may convert the e-mail to a hard copy when it does not have the capability to maintain records in the original format, provided that other records exist from which an interested party could ascertain all significant material contained in the electronic record. 2001 OK AG 46.
Public officials and employees are prohibited from altering or destroying public records on their private communication devices unless allowed to do under the state Records Management Act. 2009 OK AG 12.