In our increasingly digitally-connected world, more information than ever before is at the fingertips of the average consumer. Moreover, freedom of information has become even more important for citizens and journalists alike to stay up-to-date on governmental proceedings and hold public officials accountable for their actions.
In Colorado, the maintenance of transparency of public institutions is aided by the Colorado Open Records Act, which mandates access to most records of information and business communications of local and state entities. However, the effectiveness of this legislation is dependent on the cooperation of both citizens and public institutions, and Colorado State University’s policy on CORA requests leaves much to be desired. CSU’s administration needs to do more to offer transparency to students and taxpayers.
With the rapid digitization of society, businesses and governments alike have had to adapt to changing technology and evolving communications. Just last week, I wrote about how the federal government has over-adjusted in its surveillance of citizens’ online activity. One big issue with CSU’s transparency policies is that they do not take this technological shift as a society into account. According to the Colorado State University System’s website, the institution only accepts CORA requests that are sent via mail or fax, and that e-mailed requests are automatically rejected unless deemed acceptable “at the sole prerogative” of the custodian of the data requested.
In an era where businesses focus on speed and efficiency of communications to stay on the cutting edge, mandating that open record requests be submitted only via mail or fax seems counter-intuitive and more than a little arcane. Paper mail is one of the slowest modern forms of communications, and as millennials become the next business leaders and news reporters, facsimile technology will practically be antique. Have faxes even been sent outside the businesses realm in the last five, if not ten years?
Furthermore, designating e-mailed open record requests as a conditionally accepted form of communication is an additional obstacle to public transparency. E-mail is one of the most common and efficient methods of communication amongst businesses and the public, and should be designated as a means to legally request access to public records. Making the acceptance of CORA requests contingent upon the “sole prerogative of the custodian of the data,” or in other words, at the discretion of any one official, is a bit presumptuous, though not technically illegal on the part of administration. Taxpaying citizens have just as much of a right to public information as administrators do, and officials need to cooperate to afford them that right.
Society has evolved quickly to incorporate faster, more efficient forms of communication, and CSU policy needs to do the same to improve transparency of its records. Many news reporters and public citizens do not know how to send faxes, and the practice of writing letters is decreasing in usage due to its inefficiency compared to newer modes of communication. While university administration should not necessarily be completely beholden to the demands of the public, current transparency policy hinders more modern forms of communication, and presents a clear obstacle to the freedom of access to information.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @seanskenn.