In an article published last month, CNN wrote about the increased use of voice messaging apps to communicate and socialize with friends, family and coworkers. Voice messaging, which serves as an alternative to calls or text messages, allows users to record audio clips and send them to recipients. They’re usually sent via messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp or Clubhouse as small audio files. As the middle ground between texting and calling, voice messaging is being heralded as a way to strike a balance between socialization and respect for people’s time and convenience.
Given its increased use, public entities would be wise to consider the potential public record implications of voice messaging. In Ohio, the definition of a public record includes “any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic, including an electronic record, created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office of the state or its public subdivisions, which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the office.”
Under this definition, the format of the record is irrelevant when determining whether a record is a public record. A public entity must look beyond the electronic medium (i.e. voice messaging) and analyze the content of the message to determine if the information is a “record” that the public may access.
If the voice message was “created, received by or comes under the jurisdiction” of the public office and “documents the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the office,” then it likely meets the definition of a public record. This means that those records may need to be retained for certain periods of time pursuant to the public entity’s record retention schedule.
If you have additional questions about the obligations of a public official or employee under Ohio’s public record laws, specifically as it relates to newer apps or social media, please visit the OhioERC’s online social media training course. Among other things, the course provides an overview of social platforms and how government entities use those platforms, the records management aspect of social media, and the unique challenges associated with capturing and disposing of social media content.