FOREWORD

In the mid-1970s, Minnesota's legislature chose to balance, by statute, openness in government with privacy interests of citizens who provide information to the government. The philosophy followed by the legislature was supposedly simple. All government data are presumptively public. The only data that are not public are data that are specifically exempted from disclosure under a specific provision of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), or some other state or federal statute.

However, in practice the presumption of openness frequently bends to various special interests. Privacy for people dealing with the government continues to be protected. Privacy interests of government employees are protected. Data that would otherwise explain government actions become unavailable when special interests within the government petition the legislature. Now, section after section of the MGDPA restricts access to important data.

Moreover, the transfer of data to digital storage has not, as one might expect, made access easier. The MGPDA has not changed to reflect this new data medium. Nervous administrators use technical questions to slow and sometimes stop access. As time passes, access becomes more complicated and more difficult.

Finally, aggrieved parties have been slow to seek redress from the courts for access problems. Litigation is expensive, and the litigation provisions of the MGDPA do not ensure recovery of fees from a government agency. As a result, there is not a significant body of decisions construing the important provisions of the MGDPA. The Commissioner of Administration has now generated a large number of opinions dealing with the law, but the opinions are not controlling, and are fairly difficult to research by the public.

In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature established an administrative remedy in addition to seeking a Commissioner’s Opinion.  § 13.085.  An aggrieved party may file a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings. 

The Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML) also presumes openness. Again, though, as particular circumstances arise, Minnesota courts have shown a reluctance to give "openness" the strength it deserves. And the legislature continues to engraft exceptions to the OML which may eventually rob it of its strength.

Time will tell.