What Is the Meaning of Public Records ?
In 1967 the Legislature first defined the term "public records":
"Public Records" shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any agency Ch. 67-125, 1(a) at 254, Laws of Fla.
This definition, codified in section 119.011(1), has remained essentially unchanged.
The most significant change to section 119.011(1) occurred in 1995 when the Legislature amended the definition of "public records" to include "data processing software" and information regardless of "means of transmission." See ch. 95-296, 6 at 2727, Laws of Fla.
Thus, electronic documents stored in a computer can be public records provided they are "made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business." 119.011(1), Fla. Stat. (2002).
"In construing a statute, we look first to the statute's plain meaning." Moonlit Waters Apartments, Inc. v. Cauley, 666 So. 2d 898, 900 (Fla. 1996).
Based on the plain language of section 119.011(1), we agree with the Second District's conclusion that "private" or "personal" e-mails "simply fall outside the current definition of public records." Times Publishing, 830 So. 2d at 847.
As the Second District explained:
Such e-mail is not "made or received pursuant to law or ordinance."
Likewise, such e-mail by definition is not created or received "in connection with the official business" of the City or "in connection with the transaction of official business" by the City.
Although digital in nature, there is little to distinguish such e-mail from personal letters delivered to government workers via a government post office box and stored in a government-owned desk. Id.