U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Access to Online Local Government Public Records: The Privacy Paradox

NCJ Number
Legal Reference Services Quarterly Volume: 29 Issue: 1 Dated: January - March 2010 Pages: 1-21
David S. Byrne
Date Published
January 2010
21 pages
This article examines how State and local governments are handling the delicate balance between a public's right to know and an individual's right to privacy.
Local governments are required to provide open access to their records as a matter of law; however, there is growing public concern about the security of private information found in these files. Before the advent of the Internet, individuals enjoyed a level of practical obscurity, as viewing public records required the time and effort of a visit to the records' physical location and prevented easy access to details of individual files. However, the introduction of the Web and the availability of digital documents have caused an unavoidable conflict. On the one hand, the government is required to provide the public with a transparent view of its activities by offering open access to its records, and on the other hand, local governments need to secure their citizens' right to privacy. Especially since September 11, 2001, and the problems associated with identity theft, finding the right balance between accessibility and privacy is not a simple task. The purpose of this article is to report on the accessibility and extent of personal information found within online local government records and to understand how local governments are managing the dichotomy between providing open access to their records with maintaining the privacy rights of the public. Tables, figure, and notes (Published Abstract)