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Utah open-records law may be revised due to technological advances

SHARE Utah open-records law may be revised due to technological advances

Utah's Information Technology Commission has been asked to consider whether Utah's open records law should be revised because of technological advances.

"It's a balloon," said Sen. David Steele, R-West Point, committee co-chairman, who raised the issue at a meeting Thursday. "I tossed it up to see what they think."

Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) clearly doesn't distinguish between electronic and paper records, according to state archivist Jeffrey Johnson.

"Our law is not format specific." But technology has made it harder to figure out whether records are "private" "protected," "controlled," "exempt" or "public." And it has greatly increased the volume of data on which such a determination might be needed.

Federal law attempted to tackle the issue with the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (e-FOIA) four years ago. But a recent report by OMB Watch, a group that monitors the Office of Management and Budget, said that no government agencies were fully compliant with the act and that some had not even tried to comply.

Several issues arise, particularly when reporters try to get information, said Joel Campbell, legislative monitor for the Utah Press Association and the Utah Project Sunshine chairman for the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Campbell is also the online editor for the Deseret News.

Some government officials try to block database access because private and public information is "co-mingled," Campbell said. They sometimes skirt the issue by assessing prohibitive charges to program or segregate data.

North Carolina has put the responsibility for separating the public and private data on the government agencies. Some states now require public access be a consideration when databases are being created.

Access has also been denied because records, such as Salt Lake County's property tax database, are stored in arcane computer languages that can't be read or that need proprietary software to make sense of them. That, too, can shut people out.

Campbell also said that GRAMA should be amended so that there's an indication on an electronic record when information has been restricted. And he asked that costs be adjusted to reflect the actual cost of copying e-information.

E-MAIL: lois@desnews.com