Share Your Massachusetts Public Records Story; MassFOIA Survey to Help Identify Law Weaknesses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance is asking public record requesters to complete a survey designed to identify weaknesses in the state’s public records law.

MassFOIA — consisting of the ACLU of MassachusettsCommon Cause Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England First Amendment Coalition, and other like-minded organizations — created the survey and will use the results as part of its efforts to reform the state public records statute.

The statute grants the public the right to access information about government operations from the executive branch and municipalities, subject to certain exemptions, such as to protect personal privacy. MassFOIA contends that the law is weak and needs updating for the digital age, having not been substantially amended since 1973.

The 10-question survey takes only about five minutes to complete and can be found at www.bit.ly/MassFOIA. The questions focus on individual experiences navigating the request process and the challenges preventing public records from being disclosed.

“By completing this survey, requesters will be able to highlight for us those areas of the law that are most problematic,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “This information will be very helpful as we move forward with our efforts to help reform the state’s public records law.”

MassFOIA endorses a current bill designed to update and improve the law. House Bill 2772, filed by Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), would eliminate technological and administrative barriers to the statute’s enforcement. Other key provisions of the bill would update the law to reflect advances in technology, require state agencies to have a “point person” to handle records requests, rationalize fees for obtaining public records by having them reflect actual costs, and provide attorneys’ fees when agencies unlawfully block access to public information.

The proposed legislation aims to improve access to information that the law already defines as a public record. It would not alter the scope of the public records law or make any changes to existing exemptions, which include exemptions for personal privacy, criminal investigations, personnel records, trade secrets, and many other categories. Rather it would modernize outmoded language in the law and strengthen procedures for compliance and enforcement.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel | American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts | (617) 482-3170 x340; gwolfe@aclum.org

Robert J. Ambrogi, Executive Director | Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association | (978) 546-3400; ambrogi@legaline.com

Justin Silverman, Executive Director | New England First Amendment Coalition | (774) 244-2365; justin@nefirstamendment.org

Pam Wilmot, Executive Director | Common Cause Massachusetts | (617) 962-0034; pwilmot@commoncause.org

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NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include: The Robertson Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Foundation, and Boston University.