An appeals court should have privately reviewed a state police policy that guides troopers' monitoring of social media before deciding it was OK to block public disclosure of the policy, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The ruling came after Commonwealth Court rejected a request from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania that state police disclose details of its policy for monitoring social media to investigate crimes and do employee background checks.
The lower court did not look at the policy itself in siding with state police, instead relying on the testimony of a state police official who said that public disclosure would help criminals and others avoid police scrutiny online.
In a 6-1 ruling, the justices said the lower court should have privately examined the redacted portions of the social media monitoring policy and other evidence before overturning the Office of Open Records’ order granting access to the ACLU.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to Commonwealth Court with instructions to weigh the policy's language against state police assertions that publicizing details would impede law enforcement and jeopardize public safety. The justices said that Commonwealth Court was free to rule for state police again.
The case began when the ACLU asked for the police agency’s policies and procedures for its troopers to use social media monitoring software. The ACLU appealed under the state's Right to Know Law after getting a copy of the policy with most of it blacked out.
An open records appeals officer examined the redactions and concluded the withheld information was not reasonably likely to jeopardize public safety. Commonwealth Court sided with state police on appeal.