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Records law may be altered

Concern over the use of government information by private businesses for profit and protecting the privacy of citizens were some of the top issues state lawmakers discussed in an effort to revamp Utah's public records law.

Members of the Government Records Access and Management Task Force met Tuesday in the third of six monthly meetings to review the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) and revise it to deal with 21st century issues, such as bulk computer data and identity theft.

Lawmakers seated on the task force brought up concerns over access to large quantities of government information and the potential for gaining access to names, addresses and phone numbers by businesses for use in marketing and other business uses.

One proposal would require a government agency to ask what the requested information would be used for and restrict the use of personal information.

A representative of the insurance industry said privacy restrictions over registered drivers in Utah has made it impossible for auto insurance carriers to identify households who fail to disclose younger drivers, who are more high-risk. If insurance providers could confirm younger drivers, he said insurance premiums could be lowered for other motorists.

But in asking for the use of public information, the state could run into a possible constitutional violation, said Joel Campbell, representing the Utah Press Association.

Campbell noted it appeared the task force was prepared to turn GRAMA "on its head" in favor of presuming all government information is not public until someone proves otherwise. Currently, GRAMA presumes all government information is public unless the government agency can prove it is not.

Some lawmakers expressed concern over the use of government information to track down and harass citizens, or for identity theft. Currently there is a proposal to outlaw the disclosure of Social Security numbers by government agencies.

"We are confusing the rights to be anonymous with a right to privacy," Campbell said.

Rep. David Hogue, R-Riverton, used the media's access to public information as "sensationalism out of control," noting instances of reporters showing up at homes and banging on doors.

Campbell said those issues can be addressed but advised against throwing the baby out with the bathwater to solve a single issue.

Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, said while he supports a right to privacy, he believes anyone who breaks the law should not expect their private information — such as name, address and date of birth — to be kept private through the criminal process. Madsen said he believes the public still has a right to scrutinize those who violate the law, or those who benefit from tax dollars.

Those involved in the real estate, title and recording field said often the public listing of names and addresses is required to establish property rights.

Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott said he would like the task force to address how much government agencies, such as his, can charge companies who seek databases of information for their commercial gain.

Discussion on the issues, including a draft bill, is scheduled to continue Oct. 18.


E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com