Richard J. H. Varn, director of the Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access and the chief information officer for the City of San Antonio, spoke on the threats to and values of public access. Here's part one of notes on his 2009 NFOIC Summit session:
Threats to public access:
- Identity theft and security: The problem with identity theft is not with public records. It would flourish even if all access was cut off. A social security number is only worth about 10 cents on the black market. Concerns over identity theft, however, had led to more restrictions to public access than any other issue in the past couple decades. When public identifiers are not made public, it is nearly impossible to distinguish one person from another. It leads to more false positives and false negatives.
- Implementing public policies by redacting the truth: Because people with criminal records have difficulty finding jobs, apartments, etc., there has been a trend to expunge convictions from public records. However, this doesn't hide the fact that someone has been convicted. It's still in the police blotter archives, and a fellow co-worker could definitely reveal a prior conviction that another employee tried to hide. Redaction doesn't solve the problem. What would solve it is an employability of felons act. Facts can still be acted on. These people need rights.
- Increased fees beyond marginal cost and self-funding portal: Florida, for example, passed a cost increase to help solve its budget problems.
- Security concerns lead to overclassification.
- Coalition failures: Exemptions for media aren't enough. Citizens should have rights to the same information, and coalitions should champion for them. These citizens who request records are, after all, sometimes valuable sources.
- Private technology, public business: Using private e-mail accounts to conduct public business is ever increasing.
- New technology, same old issues: Just because it's Twitter or the latest social networking fad doesn't mean anyone is excused from providing access and charging only marginal costs.
- Enforcement failures: Obviously, many state coalitions are struggling to add teeth to their state's FOI laws.