High Tech Devices Pose Issues For Government

When we posted the story about BOISE CITY COUNCILORS collecting $150 monthly for in-town automobile and cell phone use, we reasoned the text messages and phone records would be public. Their numbers should also be public.

Third District Court in Caldwell was ahead of us as it turned out. During the trial of former prosecutor John Bujak, a judge ordered the current prosecutor to release text message exchanges from his county phone to the editor of the Idaho Press Tribune.

As we discussed the issue with current and former state employees, they told the GUARDIAN all sorts of things about government issued cell phones. From the employee who feared his boss was simply using the phone’s GPS feature to track him to the state lawyer not wanting to have a record of his messages and contacts “out there for scrutiny,” there were plenty of concerns about cell phones. Others quickly explained and justified the expense.

We contacted a sampling of state agencies and found the Idaho State Police don’t issue cell phones because commanders came to the conclusion their sophisticated radio communication system and in-car computers did the job. Troopers are welcome to carry personal cell phones. In Boise, coppers are issued phones with data packages which cost taxpayers $50 each per month. Most also carry a personal cell phone.

When it came to the costs, we did a little work with the State Controller and found during the four and a half months between July 1 and November 16, Idaho taxpayers paid $783,177 to cell phone providers. The Dept. of Health and Welfare had the “top billing” with charges totaling about $130,000.

Fully one-third (more than 600) of the entire Idaho Department of Transportation staff of about 1800 staffers carry public-funded cell phones. Spokesman at several state agencies told us the increased use of e-mail and internet “apps” have made it necessary for state workers to be “connected.”

Policies regarding the availability of phone numbers are also wide ranging. Some departments such as Boise Parks claim they will give you the cell number of any employee who carries a city-issued phone. With abbreviated government listings in the commercial telephone directories and most people using the internet to “contact” government, it is also becoming easier for public servants to use their cell phones to decide which calls to answer or ignore. “Is John Doe in,” has become an irrelevant question these days.

You can always send an e-mail or text message, but don’t forget it is a public record available for anyone to read.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. idahocrystal
    Nov 26, 2012, 3:57 pm

    Public phones = public records. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone especially in light of recent events pertaining to the Feds “policies” and the 2 Generals.

    Most agencies adhere a standard Gov’t property usage warning/statement that may or may not be clear to users whose cell phones are provided on the public dime. There’s an unwritten policy that’s standard CYA as far as users needing to consider the “spin factor” from which the public or media might judge what’s acceptable usage and what’s not.

    In fact, everyone’s records *could* be used, whether knowingly or not. The potential for hacking or court order is there.

    The best personal policy remains – If you don’t want everyone to know, don’t do it/tell it/text it or talk about it…

  2. county prayer
    Nov 26, 2012, 5:24 pm

    A government telephone number is listed on a local church web site to call for prayers. Apparently the public can call Ada County’s internal auditor at Ada County’s telephone 287-6874 at the county courthouse and get a prayer. Not sure if you can only get a prayer from 8 to 5, Monday thru Friday while she’s on taxpayer dollars payroll or if her government telephone line is transferred to her private cell or home phone during the evenings and weekends? Does she give the offerings/donations to the church or to Ada County?

  3. county prayer part 2
    Nov 26, 2012, 6:51 pm

    September 30, 2012 from the Idaho Statesman regarding Chris Rich’s (Ada County Clerk/Auditor/Recorder) statement regarding the $2 million paid to Dynamis:

    “We process the paperwork,” said Rich. “We rely on experts within the county to approve the payments.”

    Burns is the County’s only internal auditor. Is this an expert he is relying on?

    Here is the church web site Burns has her Ada County number listed:

    EDITOR NOTE–The auditor audited the auditor which got things fixed fast–thanks to your comment. The county number was put on the church website without the knowledge of the employee and was quickly removed once you brought it to the attention of Chris Rich…and another 1,000 readers.

  4. It seems rather silly that cell phones would be considered a source of information about whom called whom when you wouldn’t have had that information available from a land line without a warrant. It seems to me that a caller has a reasonable expectation of privacy as to the nature of the call or the recipient of the call even if the phone is paid for by the public and does not exceed the plan. Really now, what is the difference between a desk phone and a cell phone, they both serve the same purpose.

    EDITOR NOTE–The issue is not the phone. The issue is the RECORD. The information transmitted on a desk top e-mail is a public record. If a desk phone has a caller I.D. device, the RECORD of who called is a public document. There is no expectation of privacy when using publicly funded devices. The intent of the post is to expose the issues created by technology.

  5. We are getting silver for the price of gold

  6. Ya gotta read this; the whole thing. Scary!

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