Access and Aggregation
A 1998 episode of the television newsmagazine Dateline illustrates one way that the tension between transparency (open access to public records) and privacy can arise.1 A man, imprisoned for murder, obtained under a state FOIA the address of a former girlfriend. When she learned that her ex-boyfriend obtained her address, the woman became quite scared because her ex-boyfriend was prone to losing his temper and held a grudge against her. She lived in fear, knowing that someday he would be released and might come after her. The prisoner, however, claimed that he was the father of her child and needed the address because he wanted to file a paternity suit. This story illustrates why it is important for people to be able to obtain certain information about others, yet also demonstrates the dangers and threat to privacy caused by the ready availability of information.
There are at least four general functions of transparency: (1) to shed light on governmental activities and proceedings; (2) to find out information about public officials and candidates for public office; (3) to facilitate certain social transactions, such as selling property or initiating lawsuits; and (4) to find out information about other individuals for a variety of purposes.