Arizona’s Proposed New Law on Public Records Requests
A Bit of History
The date February 14th might stand out to most of us, and if you haven’t figured out why, it’s because it is the anniversary of Arizona’s Statehood. Over 100 years ago, Arizona became the 48th state to be admitted into the United States. Since governance is as old as human history, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Arizona’s Public Records Law is older than its own statehood. The law came to fruition in 1901, over ten years prior to Arizona becoming a state. This new law was carved and groomed based on the needs and requirements of the old governance but of course, as most laws do, it eventually is adjusted to meet the needs of its current citizens and government.
Media and Law
One of the biggest drivers of change in law and regulations is the media. The ability to inform the masses simultaneously can give the public and its citizens an upper hand in swaying outcomes of any official law and regulation. Newspapers, being one of the oldest forms of media, have experience in revolutionizing memorable or minute movements. In 1992, Phoenix Newspapers Inc challenged the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s integrity by requesting access to what was believed to be public records; the records relating to the murder of an investigative reporter Don Bolles.
Since disclosing this information would not have interfered with the ongoing murder investigation, it was concluded to be a constitutional right to have access to the involved law enforcement activities during that time, therefore the court sided with Phoenix Newspapers Inc. The court’s final ruling accomplished the efforts of the newspaper but also reinforced public records as a vital tool to society while echoing the initial purpose the law serves, government transparency.
Arizona’s Public Records Law
The main purpose of Arizona’s Public Records Law is to allow its citizens to hold their own government accountable by permitting access to its records. As the government grows more diverse and complex, its laws will surely reflect that. In 2021 during the Fifty-fifth Legislature, House Bill 2429 was introduced. It was a necessary and anticipated law that concentrated on specifying and clarifying what is defined as “public record”, the need to properly redact correct information, and listing the consequence if it is not provided in a timely manner to deter government agencies from ignoring the requests.
House Bill 2429 established a time limit, approximately 3 weeks or 15 business days, for agencies to provide an answer to a public records request. It also solidified the need for an explanation as to why a request may be denied and allowed the requester to appeal it by seeking a non-binding recommendation from the Arizona-ombudsman-citizens aide.
Now that does not mean the law is trying to blindly side with its citizens, under House Bill 2429, some requests can be rejected as they tiptoe the invisible line of “rights to access of information” and “breaching confidential or harmful information”. The reasons for denial also include that having access to said information demonstrates an invasion of privacy, can harm the competitive position of persons or is exempted under federal law. If the request meets any one or more of these conditions, it can lawfully be denied.
As previously mentioned, House Bill 2429 informed us about what consequences may exist if these agencies are not able to properly respond to the public record requests within those 15 business days. Public agencies that don’t comply will have to pay a civil penalty not to exceed $5,000 per day for each day the agency fails to respond after the warranted 15 business days. They may also be held liable for any damages that may have been caused due to their negligence.
What’s Happening Now
The stance on what House Bill 2429 proposed seems to be split and ultimately did not pass when introduced during the 2021 session of the Arizona State Legislature. Currently, the expectations of public agencies when it comes to public records requests are a bit loosely gripped compared to what House Bill 2429 had to offer. Currently, it’s expected that agencies respond to public record requests promptly, but this expectation is not enveloped in discouraging repercussions.
As a requester in Arizona, you are encouraged to be as detailed as possible and vigilant in following up on your requests because the procedures will differ from one agency to another. If the requester believes they have been wrongfully denied or are simply not receiving a proper response to their requests, they can take legal action. As you can see, the weight of bearing responsibility falls heavily on the individual.
If this information sounds eerily familiar and is accessible in your short-term memory bank, it’s because House Bill 2808, introduced recently in the initial Arizona legislative session of 2023, is aiming to accomplish the same thing. After the bill completes its thorough legislative process of introduction and its many actions, it will eventually be known whether it has passed. However, it may behoove Arizona agencies responsible for distributing these public records to learn what this may mean for them if it does.
The significant changes proposed in the bill drastically impact the public’s access to government records. This may mean having to update procedures to properly reflect and comply with the revised law. This may also require training staff on how to handle public records based on the, potentially, new law and maybe revisiting how these public records are organized. Rejecting public record requests will also require a bit more work on the agencies’ part as they will have to provide detailed explanations why they were denied.
Lastly, with videos, audio, images, emails, and documents all being potential mediums that will carry these public records, it is essential to have them properly and promptly redacted to have them ready for public disclosure.
Arizona’s agencies, including their well-respected sheriff and police departments, innovative airports, and quality schools and hospitals, will have much to consider if the bill is passed. Not only will the process of providing these records have to be expedited since there is a timeframe requirement in this proposed bill, but the fees that will apply if not done efficiently will surely cause a setback. But sending off public records as is, once determined that it is in fact appropriate to disclose, is not that easy, there are a lot of cleanups that will have to be done before sharing with the requester.
As discussed previously, there are reasons why public record requests can be denied, but the records that are approved may need to have certain parts removed, or redacted. It’s no doubt that redacting can be a tedious task, so this bill should bring to the forefront the dire need for dependable redaction software.
How to Comply With the New Proposed Law
It would be efficient for Arizona’s agencies to obtain the right tools and redaction software that can effectively perform not only document redactions but video redactions, audio redactions, and image redactions as well. This software should also allow its users to effectively redact hundreds to thousands of files at once; better yet, imagine having the exemption logs generated automatically with the redaction reasons of your redaction work implemented in the software. This will cut down on redaction time, directly aiding in the process of providing the requested assets before the potentially legally set deadline.
The good news is, if this bill is to pass, there is many redaction tools that can perform these tasks and more, all to ease your redaction experience. The better news is there are agencies in Arizona that are using the software already, putting them ahead of the game.
Redaction Statistics: Man vs Machine
Let’s talk about the 5 min test. We gave subjects 5 mins to manually redact as much PII (Personal Identifiable Information) from a 100-page document as possible. On average, people can manage to redact only 52 PII within 5 mins; of course, that is with some mistakes, and none went past 35 pages.
Using a redaction software like CaseGuard AI Automatic document redaction feature, not only were all the sensitive words redacted from all 100 pages in a matter of seconds, but it also redacted PII that people have accidentally left unredacted. When it comes to its AI Automatic video redaction capabilities, it is able to redact, for example, faces from many angles, distances, and even their reflections on any glass. This is very impressive. To take it a step further, it has the ability to redact audio in multiple languages and dialects, detecting all PII or your specifically cultivated lists and requests.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like great software to use if the bill becomes law, you’re correct, but you’d also be correct in thinking that your agency should obtain this software regardless of the outcome of the bill. Many agencies in Arizona specifically have expressed gratitude towards CaseGuard, an all-in-one redaction software that allows them to perform their redaction needs at excellent speed and accuracy.
Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure and Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure both provide guidelines on what needs to be redacted from court records. Redaction is crucial, not just in Arizona but across the globe. To help correctly protect your privacy; it’s best to use a trusted redaction software that can provide accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility. You can’t go wrong with an all in one redaction software that prioritizes those values and more!