Publish Internal Records on the Web?
Freedom of Information Act requests will eventually motivate governments will publish on the web large portions of their official records, including the emails and text messages of officials and administrators. Federal, state and local governments are being swamped with FOIA requests for email records of officials like county commissioners.
As more and more of these records are released to the public, people publish them on the web. AnnArbor.com, a news organization, has assembled and published more than 2700 pages of emails of the city council members for the municipality of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The records cover messages exchanged among members during the council's public meetings. The municipality had released the e-mail records, piecemeal, on paper in response to numerous FOIA demands over time. The news outlet then gathered them from the various requesters, scanned them into digital form, organized them and published them on the web. As a consequence government became more transparent in that city.
As technology advances, and as populist activists make more use of FOIA, it will become easier and more common to find and assemble records like these on the open Web. Ever-greater transparency in public administration is an inexorable force in the 21st century.
Wise government leaders will embrace radical transparency. Instead of dribbling records out in small units, they will jump straight to the endgame and publish an ever-growing swath of their internal records and communications directly on the web and make them easily searchable.
Meanwhile many politicians and managers will live in denial and fail to understand how technology is changing society. The Ann Arbor city council, for instance, explicitly decided in October not to publish on the web a database of emails similar to the one that annarbor.com compiled and published.
Mr. Wright teaches eDiscovery and eData Security Law at the SANS Institute, where he stresses the growing role of web publicity.