Do Public Records Belong To the Public?

The Iowa legislature is chewing over the notion that open government records may be responsible for identity theft and should be restricted. The Identity Theft Prevention Study Committee met last month and developed a collection of recommendations, including redacting certain “personal information” — that fuzzy term has yet to be defined — in public records. One of the panelists, Dan Combs of The Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access , a consortium of commercial public records aggregators, argued that redaction of public records is ineffectual and misses the supposed objective of curtailing “identity theft”, another fuzzy term. The Coalition site has position papers and summaries on public records access, such as this one on the important uses of the Social Security number by businesses and government.

What other constructive uses of the SSN identifier would you add?

Now, head down to Arizona where the Phoenix City Attorney has advised the police department to restrict disclosure of police records on the handy claim that thieves are scouring public records for personal information. The police department will start redacting victim names, birth dates of suspects AND those who are convicted and sitting in jail, and the addresses where crimes are committed. The dictum is being unevenly enforced, different types of data being excised, or not at all. Phoenix may expand this scattered policy to include code enforcement records. Which state law is this suppose to comport with?


4 thoughts on “Do Public Records Belong To the Public?

  1. More on topic, taking away public records from everyone is a disservice. There are many valid reasons to have access to data. Say your neighbor’s tree is hanging into your yard and the “renters” won’t provide you with the name and address of the property owner? What if you are going into business with someone you do not know and would like to see if they have a criminal record? In many cities this information is still easily available, but just think “what if” it were taken away?

  2. Here we go again. Just like California the actions of a few will hurt the many. To me the solution is simple. I can think of three methods to regulate access to records without giving it much thought. Lets say someone wants to review a court case file. They should be required to show valid identification. The ID information is recorded. If the person whose records were viewed reports ID theft, then the name and ID info of the person who reviewed the file is on record. Not good enough? How about requiring anyone who wants access to public records be required to go through a screening process and be fingerprinted. Issue them an ID card to gain access to public records. (This would also generate income for the county or city). Third, what about limiting access to law enforcement, attorneys and PI’s. Or at least provide access to a short list of “approved” vendors who would be responsible and liable for providing pubic info to the public with a valid reason.

  3. I think you people should watch this.
    They just want money. They will sell the PRs
    cause the IA. goverment is BROKE.

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