Do you have a public position? Are your activities in this public position subject to FOIL requests? (New York State’s Freedom of Information Law)  Or perhaps – are you subject to the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? As noted by Wikipedia, the federal government and all states regulate public access to governmental and educational records.  New York’s laws have a handy acronym of FOIL, so it’s common practice to refer to being “FOILed”.

It’ll take a bit of discipline on your end, but you’ll want to – and it should be relatively easy to stay on the “easy” side of these laws.

Open Government

Count me as an avid supporter of open and transparent government.

It’s just too easy for individuals or groups of people to abuse access to federal, state, and local organizations – for personal gain.  The fact that records used in this process are owned by and accessible to “the people” helps keep fingers out of the pie, and when that hasn’t been enough to keep everyone above board – it helps reveal when someone has been up to no good.

Already regulated

Since your activity is already covered by these laws, you know what to expect.

When you use a system to conduct “business” (whatever that business is) – you might be asked to hand over those records – email, correspondence, etc.

While your profile itself probably doesn’t count as a business record, messages might…

So don’t do it on LinkedIn!

Let’s say a constituent approaches you through LinkedIn – you probably can’t control that.

Immediately take the matter to another mechanism that is already controlled.

“Dear John Smith, Thank you for your inquiry about the new requirement to leash cats in public spaces.  I’m open to correspondence on this matter at my official email of, or at the US mail address of…  Please reach me through one of those means and include your own contact information and I’ll be happy to work through this matter.  Thank you, Abe Lincoln”

If a co-member or co-worker begins a discussion of that relates to the public work, cut that off and move it to the work-approved messaging system.

No applicable information to respond with

So yes, anybody can ask for anything at any time – just like anyone can sue anyone else over any matter at any time.

If you leave yourself in the position of having no applicable records to respond with, your answer (and the hassles on your life) will be much easier.

If you’re using LinkedIn to avoid the regular system…

Go ahead – I’m sure it’ll be discovered at some point and then you’ll get to deal with the headache of supplying the records and the headache of having been exposed doing whatever it is you didn’t want to get detected doing…-)

To your continued success,

Steven Tylock