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Meta => Suggestions and Questions => Topic started by: hbelkins on November 02, 2019, 05:17:00 PM

Title: Posting of emails
Post by: hbelkins on November 02, 2019, 05:17:00 PM
Saw this elsewhere and thought I would throw it out for discussion.




Quote from: Weingroff, Richard (FHWA) - Sun, Jan 21, 2018 at 10:35 AM
(( text from e-mail removed by kphoger because posting private e-mails is against forum guidelines ))

I can understand doing this if it was between two forum members, or a forum member and a non-member private citizen, but an email from a government employee is a public record. I'd think a correspondence from a transportation agency employee should be exempt from this forum guideline.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: Alps on November 02, 2019, 06:52:00 PM
Seems okay to me. We don't know if Brian had permission, but that's on him, not anyone who quotes the article. Personal choice by kphoger to omit parts of what he's quoting.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: Scott5114 on November 06, 2019, 02:51:11 AM
Anything done by a federal government employee (and some states' employees) while on the clock is public domain, as well, unless it's classified. So I don't think there'd be anything legally wrong with posting it, even if Richard Weingroff didn't want it posted, for whatever reason. So in this case kphoger erred on the side of caution, but we have no rule against quoting emails of public officials.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: MNHighwayMan on November 06, 2019, 07:45:46 AM
Anything done by a federal government employee (and some states' employees) while on the clock is public domain, as well, unless it's classified.

Thanks for giving me the mental image of a DOT employee working on a super-top-secret road project. It's made my morning. :thumbsup:
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: jeffandnicole on November 06, 2019, 08:37:33 AM
Personally, because of the opportunity to modify the email, it still shouldn't be allowed.

Unless the email is presented in its full, unmodified state, then continue to forbid it. And what I mean: a pic of the email, or a scanned copy of the email, would need to be shown in full, with only the email addresses redacted.

Rememeber...what a private citizen sends to the government also becomes public record. And the date of such letter or email is important too. Thus, as I referred to, a snippet from someone doesn't present the entire picture, and a small quote of such email can easily be taken out of context.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: MNHighwayMan on November 06, 2019, 09:07:50 AM
Personally, because of the opportunity to modify the email, it still shouldn't be allowed.

Unless the email is presented in its full, unmodified state, then continue to forbid it. And what I mean: a pic of the email, or a scanned copy of the email, would need to be shown in full, with only the email addresses redacted.

Photoshop is a thing that exists too. Posting images of emails is not going to solve anything. Hell, you can even directly edit the text of an email and take a screenshot of that.

Furthermore, I think your concern is overblown. I don't know what anyone on this forum is going to get out of modifying or falsifying an email. And if you really, really want to be sure of the veracity of an email, you can always ask that same question again yourself!
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: jeffandnicole on November 06, 2019, 12:38:42 PM
Personally, because of the opportunity to modify the email, it still shouldn't be allowed.

Unless the email is presented in its full, unmodified state, then continue to forbid it. And what I mean: a pic of the email, or a scanned copy of the email, would need to be shown in full, with only the email addresses redacted.

Photoshop is a thing that exists too. Posting images of emails is not going to solve anything. Hell, you can even directly edit the text of an email and take a screenshot of that.

Furthermore, I think your concern is overblown. I don't know what anyone on this forum is going to get out of modifying or falsifying an email. And if you really, really want to be sure of the veracity of an email, you can always ask that same question again yourself!

So by cutting out all the crap and not post the email in the first place, we eliminate those issues. ..which is why the rule exists.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: vdeane on November 06, 2019, 12:44:03 PM
It's also worth noting that posted emails can be picked up by bots scouring the web to add to databases for sending junk mail/scams, so there's that to think about too.  Although if an email has already been posted elsewhere, that ship has probably already sailed.

Anything done by a federal government employee (and some states' employees) while on the clock is public domain, as well, unless it's classified.

Thanks for giving me the mental image of a DOT employee working on a super-top-secret road project. It's made my morning. :thumbsup:
While it doesn't rise to the level of a defense contractor working on something classified, there are cases where talking about things that haven't yet been publicly announced is frowned upon.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: MNHighwayMan on November 06, 2019, 06:43:28 PM
So by cutting out all the crap and not post the email in the first place, we eliminate those issues. ..which is why the rule exists.

So what's the difference between posting the email and posting a generalized summary of the email? Either way, the content is put out there, and in the latter case, mistakes can be made in the making of a summary.

It's also worth noting that posted emails can be picked up by bots scouring the web to add to databases for sending junk mail/scams, so there's that to think about too.  Although if an email has already been posted elsewhere, that ship has probably already sailed.

While I have no issues with posting the contents of an email, I agree that specific email addresses should not be posted, for that reason.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: Alps on November 06, 2019, 10:19:05 PM
So by cutting out all the crap and not post the email in the first place, we eliminate those issues. ..which is why the rule exists.

So what's the difference between posting the email and posting a generalized summary of the email? Either way, the content is put out there, and in the latter case, mistakes can be made in the making of a summary.

It's also worth noting that posted emails can be picked up by bots scouring the web to add to databases for sending junk mail/scams, so there's that to think about too.  Although if an email has already been posted elsewhere, that ship has probably already sailed.

While I have no issues with posting the contents of an email, I agree that specific email addresses should not be posted, for that reason.
I agree with you, myself. I'm never going to censor anyone for posting an email to/from a government employee. That's happened on here a number of times and the responses are very enlightening. Government employees know that whatever they write to the public can be publicized. I would, of course, not allow posting of private-to-private emails.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: webny99 on November 06, 2019, 10:31:04 PM
I've posted at least one email from a DOT employee:
https://www.aaroads.com/forum/index.php?topic=1487.msg2444013#msg2444013

I never even considered that it might be an issue, or I would have asked about it here first. As noted, very enlightening and certainly not "private" in the typical sense.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: hbelkins on November 07, 2019, 01:39:04 PM
As a government employee, I can tell you that we are constantly reminded of the fact that our emails are considered public records and are subject to open records requests, subject to whatever exemptions may exist in the law.

And those little disclaimers about redistribution of messages you see at the bottom of some emails are not worth the paper they're printed on if you don't consider the environment and print the message (which is another one of those cutesy little messages you'll see sometimes.) Unless it's protected by something like attorney-client privilege, if you get an email from a government account, you're free to disclose it to whomever you want. And most public employees are cognizant of that fact. If I get a message about a road project and I answer it, I fully expect that message to be forwarded, posted on social media, etc.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: kphoger on November 07, 2019, 01:55:00 PM
Question:  Is an e-mail from a government employee a matter of public record even if it's from a private and personal e-mail account?
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: webny99 on November 07, 2019, 01:59:57 PM
Question:  Is an e-mail from a government employee a matter of public record even if it's from a private and personal e-mail account?

Logic says no - they're still private citizens with private email accounts, same as everyone else - but I defer to the actual DOT employees.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: DaBigE on November 07, 2019, 03:13:37 PM
Question:  Is an e-mail from a government employee a matter of public record even if it's from a private and personal e-mail account?

Logic says no - they're still private citizens with private email accounts, same as everyone else - but I defer to the actual DOT employees.

It likely also depends on where the email was written from: state-owned PC/smartphone vs. privately-owned tech device.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: Beltway on November 07, 2019, 06:54:10 PM
Question:  Is an e-mail from a government employee a matter of public record even if it's from a private and personal e-mail account?
Logic says no - they're still private citizens with private email accounts, same as everyone else - but I defer to the actual DOT employees.
Former DOT employee here as of 2017.

If I sent from this state account, it would be a matter of public record -- Scott.Kozel@VDOT.Virginia.gov

If I sent from this private account, it would not be a matter of public record -- kozelsm@yahoo.com
 
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: briantroutman on November 07, 2019, 07:26:18 PM
We don't know if Brian had permission, but that's on him, not anyone who quotes the article.

I posted the following to the thread in question, but just so that everyone’s on the same page, I did specifically ask for permission before posting. Regardless of the legality of such a matter, I want to be respectful of others’ wishes.

And yes, the email did originate from Mr. Weingroff’s dot.gov email account.

Quote from: Brian Troutman - Sun, Jan 21, 2018 at 11:19 AM
Would you mind if I share an excerpt of your email with my fellow roadgeeks? It would go a long way to clearing up some misconceptions and ending some wild speculation.

Quote from: Weingroff, Richard (FHWA) - Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 8:30 AM
Any information - hopefully, accurate information - I provide is in the public domain
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: Alps on November 07, 2019, 11:05:31 PM
Also, sensitive information may be shared by email, and that is not public domain.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: 74/171FAN on November 08, 2019, 07:03:12 AM
Some of the people I work with at PennDOT have confidentiality statements in their emails for those not intended to receive the message.  I do not know why exactly that is, but I agree that Brian did the right thing by asking for permission.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: jeffandnicole on November 08, 2019, 07:53:54 AM
Question:  Is an e-mail from a government employee a matter of public record even if it's from a private and personal e-mail account?

Logic says no - they're still private citizens with private email accounts, same as everyone else - but I defer to the actual DOT employees.

It likely also depends on where the email was written from: state-owned PC/smartphone vs. privately-owned tech device.

Of course, there's other public employees besides DOT employees!

As a government worker, while were not often told to remember that anything we write becomes public, it should be in the back of our heads to keep in mind. We did have one email from our admin reminding us of that...apparently due to a public request in which someone must've written something that they didn't want to get released. Whoops!

We also don't have to put those ignored statements on the bottom of our emails either, thank goodness.

As far as public/private emails: Even if I use my personal email account on my public computer at work, that's not public info. Also, and I can't speak for other states and the feds, but in my state you can't also just say I want to see all the emails someone wrote.  You would need to specify the subject of the emails you're looking for.

And finally, to be realistic...any email can be released. If I took an email from Scott's Yahoo account and blasted it on this and every other website, what's he going to do? He'll ban me from here no doubt. But will he sue? For what? And what's the chances I even show up at court 2,000 miles away? The info is out there...the only thing he can really do is not communicate with me again.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: kphoger on November 08, 2019, 02:05:11 PM
I only did the snipping in the first place because, back before I knew about the forum guideline, I had quoted a private e-mail I received from the person who designed the first CFI.  In subsequent communication with him, he became very irritated (having assumed I was someone important and then being let down that I was a nobody), and then it occurred to me that he might not have appreciated my sharing part of his e-mail on this site.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: webny99 on November 08, 2019, 05:20:50 PM
But wouldn't revealing that you're an aaroads forum member be counter-evidence to him thinking you're a nobody?  ;-)
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: vdeane on November 08, 2019, 10:02:21 PM
But wouldn't revealing that you're an aaroads forum member be counter-evidence to him thinking you're a nobody?  ;-)
Perhaps he could say he's a member of an elite association of viatologists.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: Brandon on November 09, 2019, 11:54:17 AM
But wouldn't revealing that you're an aaroads forum member be counter-evidence to him thinking you're a nobody?  ;-)
Perhaps he could say he's a member of an elite association of viatologists.

And doing a FOIA on federal highways.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: hbelkins on November 09, 2019, 01:47:40 PM
Question:  Is an e-mail from a government employee a matter of public record even if it's from a private and personal e-mail account?

On the surface, no. Although there have been claims raised that if government employees are using personal email accounts or devices to conduct business "off the books," those communications become public records and are subject to open records requests, are discoverable in legal actions, etc.

We were once cautioned not to put our work email accounts on personal devices, because that opened the door to our personal devices becoming subject to search warrants, etc.
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: 1995hoo on November 09, 2019, 03:21:18 PM
Ultimately, any time anyone sends an e-mail, the recipient can do whatever he wants with it, regardless of stupid boilerplate disclaimers lots of law firms like to use claiming that forwarding the message is "strictly prohibited." Same is true, of course, of paper correspondence, the difference being that it's easier to forward e-mail. The old saying remains true: Don't put it in an e-mail if you wouldn't want to see it in the newspaper.

hbelkins' point about segregating personal and work devices is spot-on. It's also a good idea not to use your personal e-mail account for business matters so as to protect your personal account from being discoverable, regardless of whether you're a government employee. I've worked on multiple matters where that sort of thing has become an issue. People who use their personal e-mail accounts for work become quite dismayed when corporate counsel winds up seeing all sorts of private communications—while that stuff doesn't get produced to the adverse party, it can obviously still be quite uncomfortable if your personal e-mail has salacious communications, nude photos, etc. Earlier this year I worked on a matter in which the former employee at the heart of the matter was having an affair. I'm sure his girlfriend did not expect her topless photos to be viewed by an attorney in DC!

(Don't want to get political, but consider how President Trump has continued to use his personal Twitter account instead of the @POTUS account. His tweets have been found to be public records—correctly, of course—and there have been questions raised about whether he can block people.)
Title: Re: Posting of emails
Post by: kphoger on November 11, 2019, 02:32:41 PM
It is now apparent to me that an e-mail from a government employee isn't necessarily public record.