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Update the law: Right To Know in the information age

December 14. 2016 3:52PM

New Hampshire’s Right To Know Law dates back to 1967.

The Legislature has tinkered with it over the years, and recently added a section pertaining to electronic records. The core of the law was written before anyone had even heard of email.

Digital information has made government more transparent. State government posts its monthly expenditures online. Agendas and minutes can be viewed from home. Records are emailed for free.

But it also increased the sheer volume of government records.

Tuftonboro selectmen are the latest municipal officials asking for citizens to reimburse taxpayers for the time and expense of preparing public records for inspection. State law clearly provides that citizens can inspect public documents free of charge, but can be charged for actual copying costs.

Resident Robert McWhirter wants access to 11,000 town emails. Selectmen say it will cost up to $12,800 to prepare the documents, redacting any confidential information. They are asking Carroll County Superior Court for permission to charge $.25 per page, potentially thousands of dollars.

The law needs to be rewritten for the digital age. State and local governments need to create and archive electronic records, including official email accounts, knowing that the public will read them.

Changing the law so that public officials treat email as public information would reduce the cost and complexity of protecting the public’s right to know.

Politics Editorial

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