California governor gives OK for state, local agencies to destroy emails

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is seen in an undated photograph. (Photo: JD Lasica/Creative Commons image)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a measure last weekend that would have required local governments to preserve copies of email records for disclosure under the state’s public records law.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1184, would have required local and state agencies to preserve communications sent by email for at least two years so that members of the public may inspect and copy them.

California’s open records law, the California Public Records Act (CPRA), already requires agencies to preserve public records for at least two years and prohibits agencies from destroying them beforehand. But some agencies have argued that email records are not subject to the CPRA and don’t need to be preserved under the law.

AB 1184, introduced by Asm. Todd Gloria of San Diego, would have corrected this thinking by codifying email records as subject to the preservation rule of the CPRA. The California News Publishers Association, a news media advocacy group, supported the measure.

Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill on Sunday. In a veto message, Gov. Newsom said AB 1184 did “not strike the appropriate balance” between transparency and the “burdens of a dramatic increase in records-retention requirements.”

Gov. Newsom said he was concerned that codifying a preservation requirement for email could require additional personnel and data management policies, the costs of which would be passed on to taxpayers.

The veto means local agencies could presumably choose to delete and destroy email records within the two-year retention period required by the CNPA. It could also mean that some local and state agencies that previously made email records available upon a request may choose to withhold those records by deleting them preemptively in an effort to avoid public disclosure.

Though AB 1184 failed, other initiatives to strengthen the CPRA were signed by Gov. Newsom this legislative session, including one that allowed requestors to bypass duplication fees imposed by some agencies by copying records using cameraphones.

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