Monday, July 19, 2010

Teachers' Personal E-Mails Not Public Records - US Case

The United States Supreme Court.Image via Wikipedia

A very recent privacy case in Wisconsin will definitely have repercussions across the States, and worthwhile for us to take note in Canada; especially with the number of provinces which now have Freedom of Information and Protection of Privact Acts with teeth.

The case - Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School District, decision released July 16th - went to Wisconsin's highest [Supreme] court and ruled that teachers' personal e-mails on school district computers are not public records under Wisconsin law and need not be disclosed to records requesters.

Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrote the following in the lead opinion:

There is a distinction between allowing public oversight of employees' use of public resources and invoking the Public Records Law to invade the private affairs of public employees by categorically revealing the contents of employees' personal emails...

A little background on the case: the Wisconsin Rapids School District permits teachers to use school computers for personal e-mail, and a local citizen put in a request for all e-mails sent and received on school computers by five teachers over a specific time period. Many other states' courts that have considered this particular information and privacy issue have also ruled that personal e-mail messages of government employees should be exempt from public-records laws.

Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson wrote "Disclosure of the contents of the teachers' personal emails does not keep the electorate informed about the government and sheds no light on official acts or the affairs of government,". We've yet to come across a similar information and privacy scenario for educators in Canada - a search of CanLii produced nothing but if there is something out there pleas let us know, and boards need to be prepared for this with some real policy and procedures for teachers to follow.