NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NEW YORK · Freedom of Information · Oct. 25, 2006
Records requests must be accepted through e-mail
Oct. 25, 2006 · All state and local government agencies with Internet capabilities in New York are now required to accept public records requests and transmit responsive documents by e-mail, due to a change in the state’s Freedom of Information Law that became effective Tuesday.
It is a move that puts New York, already widely recognized for its advances in government information access, at the forefront as the only state requiring all of its public agencies to use electronic mail for the delivery of records when requested.
“If New York is serious about treating electronic records requests in the same way as paper requests, it represents a long-overdue recognition of the way people live their lives these days,” said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri. “Technology should further access, not frustrate it, and so perhaps this will serve as a stepping stone for other states.”
Robert Freeman, executive director of New York’s Committee on Open Government, believes the new law provides benefits for both requesters and for government agencies. “It’s a win-win,” Freeman said.
Freeman points out that on the government side, much of an agency’s time with public records requests is spent duplicating records and processing copy fees. “Now all they do is hit the send key.”
As for the requester, Freeman said that because agencies do not incur any copy costs, they do not have to charge for electronic disclosure. “E-mail cuts the costs for everyone,” Freeman said. And unlike other states, New York does not allow agencies to charge search costs for retrieving public records.
Freeman said the new law also streamlines the process by providing requesters with a standardized public records request form and requiring uniform agency responses, moves he anticipates will improve responses from government. “The easier we make it, the better the compliance will be.”