Public Records Access and Data Security in Mississippi
The Mississippi Public Records Act refers to a number of laws that were enacted to guarantee that citizens of the state had the means to access the public records of government agencies at all levels of the state. The law was first passed in 1983 and mandates that all government bodies within the state of Mississippi ensure that their public records are available for access, copying, and inspection by members of the general public. Furthermore, the law also outlines the steps and procedures that must be followed when denying a person access to a public record, as well as the categories of records that are exempt from disclosure to the general public.
How is a public body defined under the law?
Under the Mississippi Public Records Act, a public body is defined as “any department, bureau, division, council, commission, committee, subcommittee, board, agency and any other entity of the state or a political subdivision thereof, and any municipal corporation and any other entity created by the Constitution or by law, executive order, ordinance or resolution. The term “public body” includes the governing board of a charter school authorized by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. Within the meaning of this chapter, the term “entity” shall not be construed to include individuals employed by a public body or any appointed or elected public official.”
What are the duties of public bodies under the law?
The Mississippi Public Records Act places the following responsibilities on public bodies within the state as the concerns the accessibility of the public records that are maintained by such institutions:
- All public records that are in the possession of a public body within the state are deemed to be public records under the law and as such, must be made available for access to members of the general public.
- Public bodies are responsible for responding to a request to access the public records of said agencies within 7 business days.
- Public bodies are required to redact any confidential or exempt information that may be contained within a particular public record before making the said record available for public access.
- Public bodies are permitted to establish and collect reasonable fees as it relates to the costs that such institutions incur when searching for, reviewing, and duplicating records.
- When denying a person access to public records, the applicable public body must provide the requestor with a written explanation that details the factors that influenced the decision, as well as the specific exemption regarding the records that were requested, in accordance with the provisions of the law.
- Public bodies are forbidden from using software programs that cannot be electronically copied or converted into some form of records that can be accessed by members of the general public.
What public records are exempt from disclosure under the law?
On the other end of the spectrum, the Mississippi Public Records Act also sets forth certain public records that are exempt from public access or disclosure. For instance, members of the general public are prohibited from accessing public records regarding trade secrets and confidential fiscal information. Alternatively, public records relating to the home contact information of law enforcement officers and judicial personnel are also exempt from disclosure under the law. To this point, some further examples of public records that must remain confidential under the law include but are not limited to:
- Individual tax records that are in the possession of a public body.
- Academic and educational records.
- Medical and healthcare records.
- Professional licensure and examination records.
- Worker’s compensation records.
- Records relating to attorney-client privilege.
- The personal information of victims.
- Archeological records.
- Weapon permit records.
- Records of charitable donations.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
While the provisions of the Mississippi Public Records Act are not enforced by the state attorney general, aggrieved parties can still look to the state court system for justice in instances where a public body within the state fails to comply with the law. To this end, public bodies within the state of Mississippi that are found to be in violation of the law are subject to a monetary penalty of up to $100 for each violation. Conversely, aggrieved persons are also entitled to any reasonable compensation that they may incur as a result of bringing forth a civil proceeding, including attorney fees, among other things.
When a resident within the state of Mississippi desires to access the public records of a particular government agency that operates within the state, the sections of the Mississippi Public Records Act provide said residents with the legal right to do so. Whether such records be in the form of birth certificate information or the administrative policies and procedures of a particular public body, the law gives citizens within the state a means by which they can exercise their political power, with the goal of promoting the principles of accountability and transparency.