As technology has rapidly developed in the 21st century, our society has adapted to the changes in how we can communicate and access information. However, public policy has yet to adapt effectively during this time to the same circumstances.
One area in particular in which government has yet to get up to speed is in transparency and the free flow of information. Specifically, I’m referring to the laws governing records requests from public organizations. In Colorado, record requests are regulated by the Colorado Open Records Act, which mandates access to most records of information and business communications of local and state entities.
The CORA plays an important role in the transparency of public institutions and giving anyone concerned with public affairs an avenue to request information from the state. However, the act itself is a little out-of-date.
Thankfully, one of our local representatives is taking action to attempt to update the law. State Senator John Kefalas has proposed a bill to update the CORA to require that any public records that are available in digital form to an organization must be delivered that way to the party that requested the information. The update proposed by Kefalas is long overdue and is necessary to keep information flowing at the rapid rate we have become accustomed to in the digital age, as public entities are currently not required to provide information requested via CORA digitally, and have the ability to reject a CORA request if they have requested data available in a physical format.
However, while Senator Kefalas should certainly be applauded for his efforts to increase transparency, the proposed bill does not go far enough in optimizing the flow of information under CORA. You see, while Kefalas’ proposal updates the medium in which public records must be made available to requesting parties, it ignores the media over which CORA requests can be filed. In other words, the bill will mandate that one can expect to receive public records digitally, but it doesn’t mandate that one can expect to actually file their CORA digitally.
This can create problems when organizations choose to adopt their own additional internal guidelines surrounding CORA requests. For example, one might assume or think that any modern organizations would accept requests for information over e-mail, but there are some, amazingly, that do not. The Colorado State University System, for one, has a policy that any CORA requests it receives must be sent via the mail or fax, and reserves itself the right to reject any requests sent through e-mail.
While this might seem like a minute critique, consider how significantly this one policy detail can slow down communication between CSU and outside parties. It seems practically impossible for a modern business to communicate without e-mail; if an organization can provide records to others digitally, than it can be reasonably expected to receive requests for such information digitally, too. Open records requests are frequently utilized by journalists in an attempt to offer more detailed information to their readers, and any obstacle to communication with a public organization directly impacts the overall flow of information back to public audiences.
It’s surprising and frankly laughable that CSU insists on using such arcane technologies for receiving records requests, but this should also reiterate the importance of legally updating the entire records requesting process through CORA. While the bill that Kefalas has proposed will go a long ways towards optimizing the flow of public information in our state, it does not go far enough in providing the legal backing necessary to make the dissemination of public information more efficient.
Collegian columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @seanskenn.