Privacy Is for People, Not Government
Earlier this year, I excoriated a concerning initiative out of the governor’s office that would have brought new barriers to government transparency, including reinstating attorneys’ fees in the document production process for Sunshine Law requests and limiting the kinds of documents otherwise available to the public. The governor’s plan appears to be mostly dead, but pieces remain in legislation that has now passed the Senate—and that should concern the public.
And as often happens with the Missouri Legislature, there is some irony with how the bill in question has “evolved.” Senate Bill (SB) 741 originally only established a “Personal Privacy Protection Act”—new provisions that would protect citizens’ private records from the government and, if the government had such private records, protected them from disclosure to the public. After it was amended in the Senate, SB 741 became a wide-ranging bill that now primarily protects government and government records from citizens.
How so? The revised bill now has a bevy of transparency-denying provisions, among them:
- The bill excludes many so-called “transitory records” drafted in the process of government policy development but not finalized government policies
- The bill grows the list of excuses to close public records and meetings to the public
- The bill removes many records relating to the “legislative process” from the purview of the Sunshine Law
- The bill extends the time allowed to respond to a records request
Suffice to say, if the House even bothers to take the bill up (time in the session is ticking down), it should amend this legislation dramatically, stripping out any language that protects the government from its people rather than vice versa. The “personal privacy” of constituents is an important priority, to be sure, but government doesn’t have “privacy,” and the legislature shouldn’t act like it does.