Minnesota open records law needs a name equal to its purpose

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The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act needs a new title. Desperately.

The Data Practices Act reflects Minnesota’s admirable belief that we’re all policy wonks at heart.

Star Tribune by James Eli Shiffer
January 6, 2018

One of the cornerstones of democracy in our state has a name guaranteed to drop your eyelids to half-mast.

The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act needs a new title. Desperately.

It is the law that forces bureaucrats to show us what they’re doing by making the vast majority of their records open to everyone. It also makes them protect the privacy of personal information that you hand over to the government, and it requires them to show you all the records they have collected about you.

It is the reason the police cannot arrest and jail someone in secret. It is the reason you know how much public employees are paid. It’s the reason your city can’t hide how much it’s spending on sports arenas and legal settlements and decorative water fountains.

So who cares what it’s called?

Because open, accountable government is under siege. If we want to fight the forces of secrecy, we have to defend those institutions that keep our leaders operating in public view. That’s hard to do if those institutions have names at least seven intellectual steps removed from what they actually do.

Across the St. Croix River you’ll find the Wisconsin Open Records Law. Florida has a Sunshine Law. The one adopted by Congress 50 years ago has the most grandiose name of all: the Freedom of Information Act.

Would you go to the mat to preserve your freedom of information? I think so. Now try organizing a mass rally for data practices.

Back in 2014, the Legislature set up a Commission on Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy. I’ve heard some people call it the data privacy commission for short. It sure doesn’t sound like a check on excessive secrecy, which was a big part of why it was created.

Changing a name isn’t a substitute for real reform. The Legislature still needs to bring its own members under a public records law. [READ MORE]

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