The Massachusetts legislature made a crucial announcement in October 2013 that they are seeking to pass a bill allowing greater public access to government records. This is expected to improve transparency and solve issues with the public records laws such as delayed response times and the outdated record-keeping fee structure.
The Boston area lawmakers are working on the bill to provide better as well as cheaper public access to government records which will eliminate the costly and time-consuming paper chase online. Massachusetts public records laws have not been updated or reformed for several decades and the existing system on maintaining and granting access to public records is based on 19th-century legal structures. The result is that the public find it difficult to navigate or access public information. Sometimes, the people may need to wait several months for records even after going to court for information. Legal experts say that the average wait time for a public-record request was 34 days in 2011.
The result of all this is that media, concerned citizens, and others who need and have the right to know how the government is working cannot get information as and when they need it.
Remarking on this, Mass. Rep. Antonio Cabral said, “I think that the better informed the public, the better democracy we have”.
Document conversion to electronic format will allow the people to retrieve the public records easily and quickly at the push of a button. This will provide a clear way for the people to access their records depending on what they want, which department and which agency it might be. No one can delay the release of information. Digital access to public records will not only avoid delay in response time, but also eliminate the need for taking photocopies and computer printouts of public records, which will lead to cheaper access. As per Massachusetts State law, public offices can charge up to 20 cents per page for photocopies and 50 cents for computer printouts of public records.
To sum up, electronic document conversion with greater public access will offer the following advantages:
- Providing records in electronic form saves time, money, and paper
- Make it easy to navigate and to get information that ought to be public information
- Will speed up public requests for information
- Putting more information online will facilitate public access to them and avoid the need for formal requests
- Access to public information should not be costly – digitization will make records affordable
- Materials fees for copies, printouts, or electronic storage devices can be eliminated
- Improves transparency in the way the government functions
Providing electronic access to public records will make the government more accountable as citizens can stay informed about the decisions being made on their tax money and in the name of the electorate.
The proposed bill defines administrative court office documents such as records from probation department and the chief justice for administration and management as public records. Confidential criminal justice records are not included in the proposal.