A&A: Does the CPRA consider an email database public and disclosable?

Q:  As a Business Improvement District, we are an agency of our local gov’t and subject to PRAs. I have submitted countless reports, minutes/agendas, financials and even a record of one full year of emails. Now I have been asked to submit the email database I have developed for communicating with my business members.

I am not comfortable giving this database to the public. While I have no problem disclosing my email correspondence, I do not feel right giving my email database to someone who can then send mass emails to these businesses.

Do I have to submit the database if requested through the CPRA?

A: The California Public Records Act has numerous exemptions, some of which are specific and defined, and others which are relatively broad.  Courts have repeatedly cautioned that exemptions to the PRA are to be narrowly construed in favor of disclosure.

I cannot think of any exemption that would apply to the database you describe.  Although there are some contexts under which truly personal information, may be exempted from disclosure (such as the home addresses of prosecutors, public defenders, peace officers, judges, and court commissioners in certain contexts, or social security numbers of private individuals) the justifications for excluding such information in those situations does not seem to apply to the email database here, which sounds like it is comprised of email addresses of businesses that belong to the BID, and is being used to for purposes of correspondence between the agency and business members to discuss information relating to the public.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries.  In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.