Government Records Access and Redaction in New Jersey
The New Jersey Open Public Records Act is a public records and data privacy law that was enacted in 2002. The New Jersey Open Public Records Act was passed for the purpose of replacing previous public records legislation within the state. With this being said, the New Jersey Open Public Records Act outlines the steps that government agencies within the state must abide by to ensure that their records are accessible to the public. Furthermore, the law also outlines the specific personal records and information pertaining to the New Jersey State Government that are exempt from public disclosure.
How is a government record defined under the law?
Under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act, a government record is defined as “any paper, written or printed book, document, drawing, map, plan, photograph, microfilm, data processed or image processed document, information stored or maintained electronically or by sound-recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof, that has been made, maintained or kept on file in the course of his or its official business by any officer, commission, agency or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof, or that has been received in the course of his or its official business by any such officer, commission, agency, or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof.”
What are the obligations of public agencies under the law?
The New Jersey Open Public Records Act mandates that official custodians working for state agencies within New Jersey take a number of steps to facilitate the access of said agency’s public records and information to the general public. These steps include but are not limited to:
- Official custodians of state agencies must allow members of the public to inspect, examine, and copy government records during regular business hours.
- Prior to granting access to a government record, official custodians of state agencies must redact any information that discloses an individual’s social security number, unlisted telephone number, credit card number, or driver’s license number.
- As it concerns fees that members of the public must pay to access government records, an official custodian working on behalf of a government agency within New Jersey is prohibited from charging a resident a fee higher than $0.75 per ten pages to reproduce a government record.
- When fulfilling a New Jersey resident’s public records request, official custodians working on behalf of state agencies are required to provide said records in the medium of a resident’s choosing, permitting the agency maintains the records in this medium.
- In the event that a government record is currently in use or is in storage, official custodians working on behalf of state agencies within New Jersey are required to make arrangements to copy the record and provide this copy to the requestor.
When can a state agency deny a public records request?
As it pertains to the denial of a public records request, the provisions of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act state that an official custodian working on behalf of a government agency within the state is responsible for creating, maintaining, and publicly posting a statement that establishes the grounds upon which the agency is permitted to deny a records request, as well as the rights that New Jersey citizens have in regard to appealing such denials. To this point, some of the public records and information that are exempt from disclosure under the law include:
- Criminal investigatory records.
- Trade secrets, as well as commercial, proprietary, and financial information.
- Records concerning attorney-client privilege.
- Technical and administrative information relating to computer hardware, software, and networks that would jeopardize computer security if disclosed.
- Surveillance techniques and security measures that would pose a risk to an individual, personal property, or software and electronic data if disclosed.
- Records concerning communications between a state agency and its insurance carrier, risk management office, or administrative service organization.
- Information that must remain confidential in accordance with a court order.
- Information concerning grievances that have been filed by or against an individual.
Complying with the law
As the provisions of the New Jersey Open Public Records Act require official custodians working on behalf of state agencies to redact certain forms of personal information prior to granting a public records request, automatic redaction software is an ideal way to achieve compliance with the law. As these software programs allow users to automatically redact certain forms of personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and telephone numbers, an official custodian could use such a program to ensure that the personal information and privacy of all parties is being safeguarded at all times when fulfilling public records requests.
As every U.S. state has passed some form of public records access law since the federal Freedom of Information Act or FOIA was initially passed in 1967, this legislation has taken the form of the Open Public Records Act within the state of New Jersey. Under the law, New Jersey residents have the right to access a wide range of government records and information, as their tax dollars fund the budgets and salaries of the state government. As such, the law stands as one of the foremost ways in which citizens within the state of New Jersey can hold their elected officials accountable.