Privacy seems to be a big buzz word at the state Capitol these days.
Sensing the American public's weariness of being annoyed by junk mail and phone solicitations, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and Attorney General Mike Hatch have led the charge on the privacy issue.
Moe, one of the most powerful players in the Senate, wants to see more restrictions on who gets access to government records. His main target appears to be the commercial use of public data without a citizen's written consent. When Moe met with Minnesota Newspaper Association officials this month he assured them he did not want to block media access to public records.
While the phrase "right to privacy" is tossed around pretty freely it is not a right spelled out in either the U.S. or state constitutions. It is a pretty loose concept and will differ depending upon who is interpreting the phrase. Similarly it's not quite clear what sort of specific privacy bill might surface from this legislative session.
Public information, in our book, means information that is open to everyone. No one's right to that information should be curtailed unless there is a strong and compelling reason to do so.
The point MNA lobbyists emphasized to Moe was repeated in the organization's legislative update to its members.
"The demonstrable value of public access to government records far outweighs any evidence of serious harm caused by such access, and...there is an unacceptably large danger of bad and unintended consequences should the Legislature jump too fast and far in enacting privacy legislation without really understanding what it is doing," MNA officials wrote.
Monitoring a state government that is growing more and more complex requires open access to public data for the media or any other private citizen who wants it. Our fear is that lawmakers will pass an ill-advised piece of legislation in the last-minute crunch of amendments and bills that are expected near the end of the session. It would be better if they did nothing.
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