City of Norfolk Sued for Missing Texts

The Virginia city says it doesn't have a way to archive text messages, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the ACLU were not satisfied.

by / June 3, 2014

Norfolk, Va., is being sued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) because it didn’t archive its text messages. After PETA submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for text messages sent between city council members, the city said it couldn’t supply the texts because it does not archive them. A circuit court judge rejected the city’s defense, sending the case to trial.

PETA’s lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), accuses the city of violations of FOIA and state records preservation laws.

“As government officials increasingly rely on text messages to conduct public business, it is essential to make sure that they are not used to hide the government’s work from public view,” said Rebecca Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia, reported. “Public records in any form must be made available so that voters can hold officials accountable for their actions.”

Transparency laws have created such new challenges for governments in recent years as records and communications are generated across a wide array of platforms and social media outlets. The Lee County, Fla., Visitor and Convention Bureau was required to purchase a vendor solution in order to archive its Pinterest account and maintain compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Tipp City, Ohio, began archiving its social media data last year after deploying an email archiving platform in 2009.

In 2012, North Carolina announced a new website that serves as a searchable index for the state’s 240,000 social media records.