Internal emails of public sector employees are considered to be official working documents and therefore available under the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, Share Foundation research has shown.
Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection and the Office of the Director of Anti-corruption Agency of Serbia (ACAS) replied to Share Foundation’s requests for official correspondence on a randomly selected date in due time. In the copies of the correspondence, information pertaining to third persons was redacted, as prescribed by law.
After filing complaints to decisions of the Ministry of Justice and Public Company “Roads of Serbia”, which refused to provide internal emails sent and received on a specific date, the Office of the Commissioner ruled in favour of Share Foundation and instructed them to provide the requested information. This clarifies the position of the state employee’s emails and establishes the practice of free access to contents of internal communication in state institutions.
A recent affair from the US has drawn the public attention to the importance of state official’s emails. It was discovered that Hillary Clinton used a private email address and a server located in her family home for official business while she was performing the duty of State Secretary. In Serbia, the case was usually misrepresented as a historiographical problem related to archiving state documents, although it was mostly about the transparency of state services’ activities and adequate protection of official communication.
UK Information Commissioner’s Office guidelines from 2011 point out that even information on private email accounts provided for free (e.g. Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail) of public sector employees can be available under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, if they are related to their official duties.
In Serbia, emails have also become essential for official communication, where a lot of information for which there is a justified interest of the public is being exchanged, while the law clearly allows anonymization of data which could compromise the privacy of other persons in the correspondence.
This new rule established by the Share Foundation’s research is important for improving the transparency of state institutions and enables all citizens, and especially journalists, to have better insight into work of state employees.