Data Security, Privacy, and Public Records Access in Utah
The Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) is a public records access law that was initially enacted in 1992. As stated in the law, Utah’s GRAMA was enacted for the purpose of ensuring that citizens of the state had the means to access information concerning the conduct and operations of public business and government agencies within said state. To this point, the law establishes the specific public records that citizens within the state of Utah are permitted to access, inspect, and copy, as well as the steps and measures that public bodies and government agencies must implement to provide said residents with access to their public records.
How are public records defined under the law?
Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act defines a public record as “a book, letter, document, paper, map, plan, photograph, film, card, tape, recording, electronic data, or other documentary material regardless of physical form or characteristics: (i) that is prepared, owned, received, or retained by a governmental entity or political subdivision; and (ii) where all of the information in the original is reproducible by photocopy or other mechanical or electronic means.” Alternatively, the law defines a government entity as “every office, agency, board, bureau, committee, department, advisory board, or commission of an entity listed in Subsection (11)(a) that is funded or established by the government to carry out the public’s business.”
What are the rights of Utah citizens under the law?
The provisions of the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act provide citizens of the state, as well as non-residents, with the following rights as pertains to the accessibility of public records and government information:
- The right to inspect the public records of a government entity, free of charge, as well as the right to copy said records during a government entity’s normal operating hours.
- The right to access public records that contain confidential or exempt information, permitting the government entity that maintains said records first redacts and such information prior to providing the records to a requestor.
- The right to receive a response concerning their request to access the public records of a government entity within 10 business days.
- The right to receive a written explanation, in accordance with the provisions of the law, should their request to access the public records of a government entity be denied.
- The right not to pay a fee to access, inspect, or copy a public record that exceeds the actual costs that a government entity incurs when providing access to its public records.
- The right to access a public online email repository that can be used to inspect and copy the public records of government entities within the state of Utah.
What public records are exempt from disclosure under the law?
On the other end of the spectrum, Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act designates a wide range of public records and government-related information that are considered to be exempt from disclosure to members of the public. For instance, government entities are forbidden from disclosing the personal information of their employees to a requestor. To this end, some additional exemptions include:
- Voter registration records.
- Property tax records.
- Medical records.
- Educational records.
- Individual financial records.
- Unemployment information.
- Library records.
- Trade secrets.
- Commercial information.
- Real estate records.
- Collective bargaining agreements.
- Juvenile records.
- Accident reports.
- Anonymous donor requests.
How can government entities comply with the law?
One tool that government entities within the state of Utah can use to comply with the GRAMA is automatic redaction software. To illustrate this point further, certain public records will contain both publicly available and exempt information under the law, due to the intrinsic nature of public records. In such cases, a government entity within Utah could use an automatic redaction software program to redact certain categories of information from their public records prior to disclosing them to a requestor, such as telephone numbers, postal addresses, and social security numbers, among a host of others. In this way, they can maintain compliance with the law, while also protecting the personal information and privacy of individuals that may be associated with certain public records.
The provisions set forth in the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) provide both residents and non-residents of the state with the means necessary to stay informed about the operations and conduct of the various government entities that serve citizens in the state’s multitude of jurisdictions. While there are certain public records that are exempt from disclosure, as is the case with any law that grants U.S. citizens the right to access public records and information, the records that Utah residents can access under the law enable them to gain some modicum of transparency and accountability from their elected officials.