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In a Windows NT World, a Surprising Number of State Freedom of Information (FOI) Laws Still Live in the Age of the Electric Typewriter

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

In a Windows NT World, a Surprising Number of State Freedom of Information (FOI) Laws Still Live in the Age of the Electric Typewriter

Article excerpt

In a Windows NT world, a surprising number of state Freedom of Information (FOI) laws still live in the age of the electric typewriter. Many state FOI laws were written before records were routinely kept on computer and they provide big loopholes for officials bent on denying access.

Louisiana first adopted a public records law in 1940 and enshrined the right of access in its constitution in 1974. But as recently as 1996 the state Supreme Court ruled that a public agency was not required to combine information kept in separate computer lists to respond to a request for "a list" of the information. In fact, the state high court said, the public body did not have to release separate lists, either.

A few states, however, are overhauling their FOI statutes to ensure public information does not escape into a black hole in cyberspace.

Among those generally regarded as the best is North Carolina's 1995 Open Records Law. "The great strength of this law is that the state cannot use electronic conversion to make records less accessible than in hard copy," says Amanda Martin, a media attorney with the Everett, Gaskins, Hancock & Stevens law firm.

North Carolina's law also has one of the strongest guarantees that accessing electronic records will not be costly. …

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