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Virginia Public Record Laws

Website & Social Media Archiving for Virginia State Agencies

Do you represent a Virginia State Government Agency and wondering how you should archive all your web and social media content? Are you trying to determine what you need to do both from a legal and a technical point of view? Here’s a guide to the different Laws and processes you should follow.

What Laws govern Records Management in the State of Virginia?

Virginia Public Records Act (VPRA) govern Open Records, Agency Websites and Social Media in the State of Virginia.

Do South Carolina State Records Laws include Website and Social Media content?

Yes they do. NARA state that it is a “[P]ublic expectation that all web content is both permanently valuable and accessible” – and so social media and web records are subject to these standards as well as the relevant metadata being pertinent to these laws.

Subject to VPRA,”Public records” are broadly defined as “all writings and recordings that consist of letters, words or numbers, or their equivalent, set down by handwriting, typewriting, printing …. or other form of data compilation … regardless of physical form or characteristics, prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business.” (Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3701.)

The law also provides a separate definition of “Archival record”; meaning a public record of continuing and enduring value useful to the citizens of the Commonwealth and necessary to the administrative functions of public agencies in the conduct of services and activities mandated by law. These records must be preserved in line with the Library of Virginia approved records retention and disposition schedule.

“Electronic record” means a public record whose creation, storage, and access require the use of an automated system or device but the software or media used to create, store, or access the electronic record has no effect on whether such record is a public record.

If social media posts are made or received in connection with the transaction of the agency’s public business (such as providing advice on or receiving comments about the agency, its programs, core business, etc.), then they are public records and need to be retained for their full retention period.

Case Law – Burton v. Mann, 74 Va. Cir. 471, 474 (2008)
Electronic messages fall within the definition of “public records” and are subject to disclosure. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3701. In the analogous situations of emails, as there is no current case law on the status of social media comments or instant messages, it is the subject matter of the message that determines whether it is a public record. (Burton v. Mann, 74 Va. Cir. 471, 474 (2008)).
What agencies are subject to these laws?

“Agency” means all boards, commissions, departments, divisions, institutions, authorities, or parts thereof, of the Commonwealth or its political subdivisions and includes the offices of constitutional officers. Va. Code Ann. §42.1-77.

What is my agency required to do in line with these regulations?

Public and Archival records should be archived, maintained and made available in line with the relevant State records retention schedules. Agencies need to determine how they will retain the records, website and social media content posts in their custody and control. When control of the posts is outside of the agency (as with Facebook or Twitter as opposed to an agency created blog), the agency needs to consider what other records they can retain, such as confirmations of each post/comment or screenshots. Agencies should consider these issues when reviewing service contracts of social networking sites, as well as the settings configuration within each of their social networking accounts.

Agencies have a right to monitor any and all aspects of electronic communications and social media usage and implement a strong and transparent records management system and policy to do so.

Public records maintained by a public body on a computer or other electronic data processing system shall be made available to the public at a reasonable cost. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2- 3704(G).

The law provides that public records may only be destroyed with the Library of Virginia’s authorization. Records retention schedules are compiled in conjunction with the records management and archival staff at the Library of Virginia. These provide written legal guidelines to agencies for determining the retention period and disposition of their records.

In which form do I need to archive my records?

Websites must be retained in their original format: HTML, CSS, PDF etc.

Public bodies must make reasonable efforts to reach an agreement with a requester as to the format in which to provide the records. If records are maintained in an electronic database, the public body shall produce them in any tangible medium identified by the requester. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704(G).

How can PageFreezer help our agency?

PageFreezer has been working on our archiving technology and processes since 2006 – We know how to properly archive Web Sites, Blogs and Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram. Just ask any of our over 500 clients including US Cities, Counties and other Government Agencies as well as Multinationals, Financial Service Firms, Healthcare Providers …

Our clients know our technology is secure, reliable and authenticated. More importantly they appreciate the ease-of-use.

That’s why our complex technology is simple to use – The archiving is automatic and retrieval is a matter of signing in, going to the date you want, and browsing your site just like you did when the content was just published.

If you have questions about any of this or about how to actually implement effective Online Public Records management start a free trial, schedule a demo or contact us directly.


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Guide to public records act