Public Records,Official Secrets,and FOIA

After engaging in a few communications of late, I feel it is probably necessary to point out some information to all you internet road warriors.

First of all, blogs are public, not private, by design.  And once its out there, you can’t take it back.  Somebody has copied, downloaded, or otherwise distributed it.  So, if you have comments to the blog — and I approve them, which automatically and immediately posts them — well, they are out there and that is that.  No going back.

Second, please know that I am a government official.  Sounds funny to me, but there it is.  NOTHING you write to me is private.  No blog comment, no email, no regular letter.  There is a federal law and several regulations that say that correspondence with me (or anybody else in the government, by the way) is part of the official record and it is AGAINST THE LAW to remove, erase, or delete it.  Somewhere all my email is being archived, for example.  Who is going to look at all those terrabytes of data is problematic, but I am required to keep them, my agency is required to keep them. 

So, much as I appreciate your inputs, cards, letters, tweets, emails, etc., etc., once you write me, it is NOT PRIVATE.  You should have no expectation of privacy in that correspondence.  At least for anything sent to my work address, actual or virtual. 

Further, almost anything that I have in my files, actual or virtual — and this includes email, blog posts, etc. — is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  That means that if a citizen (typically but not always a representative of the news media) requests the information from me, I am compelled by Federal Law and regulations to turn it over to them unless it is covered by a very few restrictions.  Nothing you might send to me fits under those few restrictions.

So, not to turn you off, but you need to know that if you write me, email me, comment to my blog, whatever, that information is part of the public record and you have no expectation of privacy nor any recourse to have the information deleted or erased. 

So now you know.

9 thoughts on “Public Records,Official Secrets,and FOIA”

  1. I think the answer to Virgil’s question is, “That depends on which ‘Big Brother’ you speak of”.

  2. I have no problem with anything I write “going public”, Wayne. Something that you have to take into consideration is that humanity has the ability to preserve so much of its history now that previous generations never considered. We’ve come a long way from drawing on cave walls, all the way to sending our civilization’s “ambassadors” into space aboard scientific probes like the Pioneers and Voyagers and through beamed radio transmissions towards likely star systems.

    In maybe 200 years, some student at NASA’s Spaceflight University will be doing research into how NASA responded in the wake of the Columbia accident, and stumble upon this blog.
    What will he, or she, learn? The ending hasn’t been written yet…it’s still a work in progress. If something I give you turns out to have been of use, then everyone is the better for it.

    It’s the fact that I had the ability to contribute that our student might find amazing…

  3. Hi Wayne,
    I just discovered your blog. Thanks! In past years I watched you on NASA TV at the press briefings as you answered the same question for the third time so calmly. I was impressed. At 52, I grew up with the space program and it continues to impress and inspire me. I enjoy your insight and humor. Blog on.

  4. I suppose that's the consequence of having a government constrained by rules, and I believe that's a good thing.


    The way things are going, it's not going to be that much longer — a coupld of generations, perhaps — before anything anyone does will be a matter of public record, anyway.

    With the increasing use of surveillance cameras (Britain is a prime example), geolocation of mobile phones, and so forth, maybe soon privacy will be a thing of the past.

    I don't know what humanity will be like when privacy is an outdated concept seen only on “old” films.

  5. You know, I never really thought about it, but it does make sense. I mean, it doesn't bother me at all, but I certainly appreciate the disclaimer!
    On the one hand, it is sort of ridiculous to think that anyone would/could read EVERYTHING that you have… but in the age of Google, doing quick searches on vast quantities of data is pretty simple. For example:
    I have a Gmail account that has about 3 Gb of info and thousands of emails… but I regularly use it to search for everything from code to my daughter's school trip schedule. Its all in there and would take days to find without searching.
    Still, it must be strange to know that all of your correspondence is being PUBLICLY archived…

    Does that effect what you say and how you say it?


  6. Hi Wayne,

    Thank you for taking time out of what must be an incredibly busy schedule to write this blog for those of us who care!

    Thanks also for being so upfront and honest about this blog being public information.

    As a big fan and user of Public Domain information, I already knew that just about everything on a U.S. Government website or blog is in the Public Domain and that this would be too.

    It seems like every little bit of personal information we put online in a public forum, website or blog is accessible these days by anyone who knows how or where to find it.

    Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be too much privacy online anymore but I have no problem with what you wrote above.

    Keep up the good work with this blog as I'm looking forward to reading and learning more!


  7. So there is no privacy at all?
    All is being watched?
    Thanks for bringing transparency over this.
    It was very necessary for people to know about it.

    Roger Steve

  8. This is a good clarification. I mean is there really anything such as private data anymore anyway?


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