Public Records Access and Information Security in Maine
The Maine Freedom of Access Act or FOAA for short is a public record and government information accessibility law that was enacted in 1959. As stated in the law, the Maine Freedom of Access Act was passed for the purpose of “guaranteeing access to the “public records” and “public proceedings” of state and local government bodies and agencies” within the state of Maine. With this being said, the FOAA lays out the procedures that government agencies within the state of Maine must follow in order to facilitate the accessibility of their public records and information to residents within the state. Moreover, the law establishes the specific public records that are exempt from such accessibility.
How is a public record defined under the FOAA?
The definition of a public record under the Maine Freedom of Access Act is described as “any written, printed or graphic matter or any mechanical or electronic data compilation from which information can be obtained, directly or after translation into a form susceptible of visual or aural comprehension, that is in the possession or custody of an agency or public official of this State or any of its political subdivisions, or is in the possession or custody of an association, the membership of which is composed exclusively of one or more of any of these entities, and has been received or prepared for use in connection with the transaction of public or governmental business or contains information relating to the transaction of public or governmental business”.
What are the responsibilities of government agencies under the FOAA?
State and local government agencies within the state of Maine have a number of duties and obligations as it relates to ensuring that residents within the state have the means to request access to public information and records. These responsibilities include but are not limited to:
- Government agencies are responsible for redacting certain forms of personal information, such as names, addresses, and financial information, from public records prior to disclosing said records to the general public.
- Government agencies have an obligation to respond to all requests for access to public records within 5 working days.
- Government agencies must allow Maine residents to inspect, view, or copy their public records during reasonable office hours.
- When contracting for or purchasing computer software, government agencies must consider the manner in which such technological solutions will impact their ability to comply with public records requests.
- When denying a public records request, government agencies must provide an explanation to a Maine citizen detailing the reasons for the denial, in writing, and within 5 working days.
- All records maintained by a government agency within Maine, irrespective of the format under which said records are stored or maintained, are considered to be public records under the Maine Freedom of Access Act.
How can government agencies comply with the FOAA?
Due to the inherent nature of records, some records that are maintained by government agencies within Maine will contain both public and confidential information. As such, these government agencies face a dilemma when looking to comply with legislation such as the FOAA. To this point, automatic redaction software can be used to help maintain the privacy of all individuals, while simultaneously allowing residents within the state of Maine to access public records. As these software programs provide users with the ability to redact personal information in numerous ways, both manually and automatically, government agencies within Maine can easily redact personal information from their records, so they can provide them to residents in a timely and efficient manner.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
In terms of the penalties that can be levied against government agencies that are found to be in violation of the law, agencies that fail to comply with the law are subject to numerous punishments. To illustrate this point further, a state agency that is found to have violated the provisions of the FOAA is subject to a civil penalty of up to $500. What’s more, while violations of the law will not result in criminal penalties, government agencies within Maine that are found to have intentionally altered, removed, or destroyed their public records after receiving a request to access said records may be charged with a Class D crime under appliable legislation within the state.
In accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA, the Maine Freedom of Access Act provides residents of the state with the legal framework necessary to request access to certain public records and government-related information. To this end, the penalties that can be imposed against government agencies and their representatives that fail to comply with the law ensure that the public records access right of Maine citizens are not infringed upon, as their tax dollars form the foundation of all government activities and expenditures within the state.