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Alabama newspaper askes for withheld 'personal' email

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  1. Freedom of Information
An Alabama newspaper is demanding copies of so-called personal e-mail messages sent by city officials that were withheld from a…

An Alabama newspaper is demanding copies of so-called personal e-mail messages sent by city officials that were withheld from a recent open-records request.

An attorney representing the TimesDaily sent a letter to Florence’s city attorney asking for messages sent and received by Florence’s mayor, city council and city attorney from city e-mail accounts that weren’t produced after an earlier request. On Nov. 24, the paper asked the city for messages sent during the months of October and November — the same time period during which the city acquired a golf club — and received 1,400 e-mail messages from the city. But correspondence the city clerk deemed "personal" was withheld.

"Public officials and employees should not be using public communication systems for private communications," wrote Dennis Bailey, general counsel to the Alabama Press Association. "But if they do, they are public records that should be produced if they exist at the time they are requested."

The TimesDaily‘s request is the latest in a spate of disagreements over whether personal messages sent from government accounts can be rightfully withheld when fulfilling a records request. A D.C. federal circuit court said earlier this month that a U.S. attorney’s personal e-mail correspondence was private, even if sent from a work account. The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear a similar lawsuit over text messages.