Open Records in Washington
Social media records in the state is governed by the Washington Public Records Act. In a 2010, legal precedent was also set by O’Neill v. City of Shoreline, when it was concluded that the metadata associated with digital content falls under the the Public Records Act.
How Washington Defines a Public Record
According to the Washington Public Records Act, government departments and agencies are required to retain public records of both physical and digital information/documents. This includes website and social media content, as well as all associated metadata.
(3) “Public record” includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics. For the office of the secretary of the senate and the office of the chief clerk of the house of representatives, public records means legislative records as defined in RCW 40.14.100 and also means the following: All budget and financial records; personnel leave, travel, and payroll records; records of legislative sessions; reports submitted to the legislature; and any other record designated a public record by any official action of the senate or the house of representatives.
Social Media Guidance Documents
The Office of the Governor has published a document with guidelines and best practices for social media use in Washington State. With regards to records retention, the guide states that:
- The agency recognizes that all content published and received by the agency using social media in connection with the transaction of the agency’s public business are public records for the purposes of Chapter 40.14 RCW (Preservation and destruction of public records).
- The agency remains responsible for capturing electronic copies of its public records made or received using social media, including those records made or received using third-party websites.
- The agency must establish mechanisms/procedures to capture and retain public records made or received using social media.
- Agencies should consider methods for capturing social media public records. In addition to establishing a separate agency email account for social media tools, consider using or developing applications that capture social media records.
- The agency retains social media public records and disposes (destroys or transfers to Washington State Archives) social media public records only in accordance with records retention schedules approved by the State Records Committee under URCW 40.14.050.
- This agency applies records retention schedules to social media public records consistent with the application to non-social-media public records, based on the function and content of the public record. For example, comments received via social media are retained for the same period as they would have been if they had been received by the agency via email or non-electronic means.
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