Data Security and Public Body Records in Michigan
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act refers to a series of public records access laws that were first enacted in 1977. The law has been amended numerous times since being passed in 1977, with the most notable amendment occurring in 1995, when the law was changed to prohibit citizens from making oral public records requests. Subsequently, the provisions of the law establish the steps and procedures that Michigan residents must follow when looking to access a particular government record, as well as the specific government records that are exempt from disclosure to the general public. Moreover, the law also outlines the forms of government information that constitute public records.
How is a public body defined under the law?
Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, a public body is defined as “a state officer, employee, agency, department, division, bureau, board, commission, council, authority, or other body in the executive branch of the state government, but does not include the governor or lieutenant governor, the executive office of the governor or lieutenant governor, or employees thereof.” Alternatively, the law defines a public record as “a writing prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body in the performance of an official function, from the time it is created. Public record does not include computer software.”
What are the obligations of public bodies under the law?
The obligations that public bodies have under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act with respect to the right for citizens of the state to request access to their public records include but are not limited to:
- Public bodies are responsible for implementing and maintaining procedures and guidelines that citizens can follow when looking to request access to their public records. These procedures and guidelines must detail the fees associated with such requests, as well as the avenues that citizens have in terms of challenging or appealing a public body’s decision to deny their request to access their public records, among other pertinent information.
- Public bodies are prohibited from charging an individual a fee to access a public record that would exceed the costs associated with searching for, locating, examining, copying, or mailing said record to an individual.
- Public bodies are prohibited from charging an individual a fee to access public records or information that may be contained within an online website that said bodies use or maintain during the course of their respective administrative and business operations.
- If a public body fails to comply with a request to access its public records in a timely manner, the public body in question must reduce the labor costs associated with producing said records by %5 for each day the body exceeds the permitted time.
- When denying an individual’s request to access public records, public bodies are responsible for providing said individual with a written response detailing the factors that led to their decision.
- Public bodies have a duty to redact any personally identifiable information that may be contained within their public records prior to disseminating said records to the public.
What records are exempt from the law?
While the Michigan Freedom of Information Act provides residents of the state with the right to request access to a wide range of records, there are some exceptions to the law. To this point, some of the public records and government information that are exempt from disclosure under the law include:
- Computer software programs.
- Personal information that would result in the invasion of privacy.
- Social security numbers.
- Academic transcripts.
- Appraisals associated with potential property acquisitions.
- Examination information.
- Medical and healthcare records.
- Information pertaining to law enforcement investigations.
- Archeological information.
- Trade secrets and proprietary information.
- Information provided in the confidence of attorney-client privilege.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
As it concerns the penalties that can be imposed against public bodies that are found to have violated the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, government institutions that fail to comply with the law are subject to numerous penalties. These punishments include a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation, in instances where a public body refuses or delays the disclosure of their personal records after a Michigan citizen has followed all applicable procedures needed to access said records. Moreover, public bodies that are found to have charged a Michigan resident excessive fees to access their public records are also subject to a civil penalty of up to $500 per violation.
As legislation such as the Michigan Freedom of Information Act provides U.S. citizens with the means to hold their elected officials accountable, such laws are pivotal in maintaining transparency between the government and their constituents. What’s more, the fines that can be levied against public officials and bodies that fail to comply with the law ensure that citizens within Michigan can seek justice should their rights be violated. As such, the law serves as the main mechanism by which residents within the state of Michigan can observe the manner in which their taxpayer dollars are being spent.