Government Technology

    Digital Communities
    Industry Members

  • Click sponsor logos for whitepapers, case studies, and best practices.
  • McAfee

Orange County’s ‘Textgate’ Scandal Shows Need for Texting Policies (Opinion)

Texting


Mobile technology is creating new ways for officials to violate public records laws. Orange County, Fla., learned that the hard way.

June 5, 2013 By

Last September, a nasty little controversy over an undetermined number of deleted text messages erupted in Orange County, Fla. Commissioners there were accused of trading texts with opponents of a ballot referendum during public hearings on the measure. When local media outlets and supporters of the measure -- which would require businesses in the county to provide paid sick time to employees -- sought the texts, they discovered some had been erased.

Dubbed “textgate,” the scandal raised ethics questions about county leaders and created a huge headache for county CIO Rafael Mena, who had the task of recovering texts related to the ballot measure. But the event had larger implications too: Mobile technology is creating new ways for our officials to run afoul of public records laws. That’s why the issue needs more attention from CIOs and public leaders.

Ultimately, the incident prompted Orange County to tighten up its treatment of texts. Mena recently flipped the switch on a new system that captures and stores text messages sent and received by county-owned devices. Messages are saved in a searchable repository and can be quickly retrieved to comply with records requests. The county also inventoried county-issued mobile devices and disabled texting for employees who lacked a business justification for the service.

A new training program drives home the point that employees are responsible for retaining work-related text messages even if they’re using personal cellphones, like county commissioners were during the incident. “They can forward the content of the text message to our email system so it will be saved,” Mena says, “and they need to understand that the police can come and get their personal phone to do forensics on it.” Employees who fail to complete the training will be disciplined, he adds.

Mena arrived at these solutions while trying to recover the deleted texts last year. He quickly discovered that wireless carriers don’t retain the content of text messages, so he was forced to dig into the guts of the phones themselves. As with any other type of computer, deleted messages are still rattling around inside of a smartphone until the device actually reuses the portion of memory containing those messages. Until the messages are overwritten, it’s possible to retrieve them -- but it’s not always easy. “Depending on what device was being used,” Mena says, “we were able to recover them all or not [at all].”


View Full Story

| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Digital Cities & Counties Survey: Best Practices Quick Reference Guide
This Best Practices Quick Reference Guide is a compilation of examples from the 2013 Digital Cities and Counties Surveys showcasing the innovative ways local governments are using technological tools to respond to the needs of their communities. It is our hope that by calling attention to just a few examples from cities and counties of all sizes, we will encourage further collaboration and spark additional creativity in local government service delivery.
Wireless Reporting Takes Pain (& Wait) out of Voting
In Michigan and Minnesota counties, wireless voting via the AT&T network has brought speed, efficiency and accuracy to elections - another illustration of how mobility and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology help governments to bring superior services and communication to constituents.
Why Would a City Proclaim Their Data “Open by Default?”
The City of Palo Alto, California, a 2013 Center for Digital Government Digital City Survey winner, has officially proclaimed “open” to be the default setting for all city data. Are they courageous or crazy?
View All