California Public Records Laws – Online Records

Open Records in California

The California Public Records Act demands that government agencies preserve public records regardless of physical form.


How California Defines A Public Record
(e) “Public records” includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.

(g) “Writing” means any handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored.


Social Media Guidance Documents
With strong support for using online communications like websites and social media The California Records and Information Management Program (CalRIM), a department of the Secretary of State, released the CalRIM Electronic Records Guidebook on using social media records.

To determine if a social media interaction constitutes a public record, the following questions should be answered:

  • Does the social media content contain information or evidence concerning an agency’s mission or policies?
  • Is the information unique or available elsewhere?
  • Does the social media content contain evidence of official agency business?
  • Does it document a controversial issue?
  • Does it document a program or project that involves prominent people, places or an event?

What is my agency required to do in line with California regulations?
Access to records must be granted upon request, immediately if during business hours. (§ 6253(a)).

Your agency must provide assistance in identifying records requested records promptly (§ 6253.1).

In “unusual” cases (request is “voluminous,” seeks records held off-site, requires consultation with other agencies, etc.), the agency may, upon written notice to the requesters, give itself an additional 14 days to respond. (§ 6253(c)) however these guidelines may not be used just to delay access to the records. (§ 6253(d)).

The agency may never make records available only in electronic form. (§ 6253.9(e)).

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