Although practices vary by agency, requests for electronic communications are generally not controversial in Washington and are treated the same as any other records request.
In June 2007, the attorney general adopted Model Rules for Electronic Records. The rules are non-binding “best practices” for state and local agencies to follow in fulfilling requests for electronic documents. Among other things, the rules recognize that requests for electronic public records should be addressed in the same manner as requests for print records.
Washington’s Public Records Act makes no distinction between electronic public records and traditional paper records. One recent case held that an e-mail sent by a private citizen to the home computer of a public official was a public record — at least, once it became the subject of public comments at a city council meeting. O’Neill v. City of Shoreline, 145 Wash .App. 913, 187 P.3d 822 (2008).
State law requires agencies to develop appropriate record retention policies, including for electronic records. RCW 40.14.020. An electronic or e-mail version of a public record must be retained for the same period of time as if it were in paper form. Agency practices vary widely and compliance with these guidelines is not universal, particularly at the local level.