Public Access to Records

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Modern laws requiring public access to government records began to surface in the United States in the 1950s. But the concept of openness in government goes back to the start of our nation. Certain of the founding fathers placed a great deal of importance on the need for citizens to be informed about the activities of their government. However, even the most visionary of the founding fathers probably did not anticipate the depth and breadth of information held by the government today. The struggle to balance the right of the public to access government records with the increasing desire to protect privacy and confidentiality gets more difficult each year. While new technologies have enhanced our ability to manage data and information, they have also created new fears about abuse of personal and confidential information. The sword of liability can cut both ways. There are potential liability concerns for refusing access to records that are public and for disclosing confidential information. For these reasons, it is important for the custodian of public records to have a good understanding of the public’s right to access government records and the limitations on that right.