Minnesota Department of Administration Advisory Opinion 97-049

This is an opinion of the Commissioner of Administration issued pursuant to section 13.072 of Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13 - the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. It is based on the facts and information available to the Commissioner as described below.


Facts and Procedural History:

For purposes of simplification, the information presented by the person who requested this opinion and the response from the government entity with which the person disagrees are presented in summary form. Copies of the complete submissions are on file at the offices of PIPA and, with the exception of any data classified as not public, are available for public access.

On October 2, 1997, PIPA received a letter from Judy Lindsay. In her letter, Ms. Lindsay requested that the Commissioner issue an opinion regarding her right to gain access to certain data maintained by Independent School District #196, Rosemount. Ms. Lindsay enclosed copies of related correspondence.

In response to Ms. Lindsay's request, PIPA, on behalf of the Commissioner, wrote to Dr. John T. Haro, Superintendent of ISD #196. The purposes of this letter, dated October 23, 1997, were to inform Dr. Haro of Ms. Lindsay's request, and to ask him or the District's attorney to provide information or support for its position.

On November 4, 1997, PIPA received a response from Mark T. Porter, Director of Human Resources and Legal Services for ISD #196. A summary of the detailed facts of this matter follows.

In a letter dated October 17, 1997, Ms. Lindsay wrote to Dr. Haro, requesting access to "a copy of the district's directory with employees' e-mail addresses and voice mail numbers as per Minnesota Public Data Law [sic] 13.03." According to Ms. Lindsay, she was provided a copy of the voice mail directory, but ISD #196 denied her request for employee e-mail addresses. Ms. Lindsay wrote that "[t]he superintendent says, according to, Chapter 13 Private Data [sic], the district can not release the e-mail directory."

In his response to the Commissioner, Mr. Porter wrote that District employees' e-mail addresses are "personnel" data, within the meaning of Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43, and according to Section 13.43, subdivisions 2 and 4, e-mail addresses are classified as private data, and are therefore not accessible to Ms. Lindsay.



Issue:

In her request for an opinion, Ms. Lindsay asked the Commissioner to address the following issue:
Has Independent School District 196 complied with Minnesota Statutes Chapter 13 in denying public access to a copy of the District's employee e-mail directory?



Discussion:

"Personnel data" are data about current and former employees maintained by government entities such as ISD #196, and are classified according to Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43. Employer-provided e-mail addresses are data about District employees that are collected, created, and maintained by ISD # 196 because those individuals are employees of the District. Accordingly, those data are personnel data. (See Section 13.43, subdivision 1.) Subdivision 2 of Section 13.43 classifies specific types of personnel data as public and subdivision 4 classifies all remaining personnel data as private.

Employee "e-mail address" per se is not included in the list of specific data classified as public at Section 13.43, subdivision 2. Neither, for that matter, is a United States postal address specified. However, the list of data that are public includes "work location." It is not disputed that as part of work location, a public employee's postal mailing address is public. The Commissioner is of the opinion that in the electronic age, a public employee's e-mail address is also part of the employee's work location. An employee's e-mail address simply provides another means, in a different medium, for the public to communicate with its government. For the Commissioner to conclude otherwise would be absurd. (See Minnesota Statutes Section 645.17.)


Opinion:


Based on the facts and information provided, my opinion on the issue raised by Ms. Lindsay is as follows:

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43, subdivision 2, public employees' work-provided e-mail addresses are part of the employees' "work location" and are therefore public data.

Signed:

Elaine S. Hansen
Commissioner

Dated: December 10, 1997