Telephone Records and FOIA

Checking out something I had seen on a SportsCenter crawl about University of Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt, I came across this odd bit of information:

In an open letter on school stationery, released Tuesday, Nutt denied various rumors on the Internet that questioned his handling of prized recruit Mitch Mustain, allege that he chased higher-profile jobs and claim that he was having an extramarital affair.

The letter came after Nutt’s critics obtained copies of his cell phone records in an effort to gather information that could cost Nutt his job.

In the letter, Nutt denied having an affair with local television anchor Donna Bragg. Fans had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain Nutt’s phone records showing he exchanged 1,063 text messages with Bragg between Nov. 30 and Jan. 11, including once just 19 minutes before the start of the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1.

While I grant that Nutt is a state employee, why are his telephone records subject to FOIA requests? Subpoena and oversight by appropriate university and state officials, absolutely. But curious journalists and random schmoes off the street?!

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Was the phone supplied through work?

  2. talboito says:

    From what I’ve heard, it was a University cell phone. The public does have the right to know what sort of calls its paying for.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Presuming the cell is being paid for by the university, so what? It’s not being provided solely for official business but as a perk of a executive level job. He likely gets a free car, a free house, and all manner of other non-salary compensation as well. That doesn’t give the public the right to his trip itineraries or to snoop around his house to see what he’s up to.

  4. David Harris says:

    Have to agree with Dr. Joyner here. If there is rumor of impropriety, the school administration should be reviewing phone and text records, not the public at large.

  5. Bithead says:

    Still, it’s being paid for with tax money…. and the openess of reporting is the idea behind the existing law. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, frankly. I make no judgements about the policy, I’m simply suggesting that’s the jist of the policy.

    Now it’d be even more entertaining, if such openess applied to, say, the lawmakers…. as in Congress. Of course, it does not.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    In this case the university needs watching as well. If you are going to pay these guys millions and allow recruiting violations (as some schools do) there needs to be an outside watchdog to keep an eye on things. I wouldn’t trust the school to investigate or report on it openly.

    Schmoes of the street can be pretty smart and have the public interest at heart.