Pennsylvania: Technology can help solve the government transparency problem

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act went into effect. The Act deems all records public unless the government can show that it isn’t. Unlike some states, the burden is on the government entity to prove that the record is exempt under Pennsylvania State law. Despite the focus on transparency in the 2009 Act, State auditors reported that 40% of the 588 anonymous requests the auditors made for agency budgets were ignored or turned down.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not an anomaly. Experts say that public access to records is worse now than it was four years ago. Today, public officials are more likely to deny record requests, according to nearly half of the media experts surveyed in the “Forecasting Freedom of Information,” study. In the same study, more than one-third of survey respondents (38%) said they were denied records more frequently at all levels of government in the last four years. In addition, claimants filed lawsuits in every state in the country claiming that public officials did not produce public records within the statutorily required time period – or that they did not produce records at all.

The purpose of the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act is to protect democracy by ensuring an open government. The reality is that most government agencies want to comply with open records requests, but they struggle for the budget to hire employees to respond to requests, gather documents, make copies, and redact requested documents. Read more…