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Governor limits access to public records

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    NMU         NEW JERSEY         Freedom of Information         Jul 11, 2002    

Governor limits access to public records

  • Days after a new open records law took effect, the New Jersey governor signed a restrictive executive order that sealed hundreds of public records under the guise of security.

The prospect of more openness and greater access to information in New Jersey was jeopardized when Gov. James E. McGreevey signed an executive order on July 9 that exempted hundreds public records from the state’s new law that went into effect on July 7.

In his executive order, McGreevey wrote that “the right of public access to government records as provided in the Open Public Records Act must be balanced against the risk of disclosing information that would facilitate terrorist activity and balanced against a citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Yet, while McGreevey ordered all records that could “materially increase the risk or consequences of potential acts of terrorism” to be made confidential, he also sealed off broad categories of information pertaining to his own office.

For example, any correspondence with the governor where the person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy would remain secret.

The order also made exemptions proposed by state agencies immediately effective and directed the state attorney general to create regulations that determine what records will be classified as confidential due to security concerns.

McGreevey also created a blanket rule that prohibits state agencies from disclosing an individual’s home address, home telephone number, and social security number when releasing government documents. This rule, strongly supported by privacy advocates, is believed to be the first in the nation that places such widespread restrictions on the disclosure of home addresses.

JLW

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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