The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, Data Security

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, Data Security

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is the primary legal framework that citizens of the state can utilize to access the public records and information of their respective government institutions. Passed in 1967, the same year the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted, the law establishes the requirements that government agencies must abide by as it concerns the ability of Arkansas citizens to request access to their public records. Furthermore, the law also outlines the circumstances under which a government agency is permitted to deny a request to access their public records, as well as which records are exempt from disclosure altogether.

How are public records defined under the law?

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act defines public records as “means writings, recorded
sounds, films, tapes, electronic or computer-based information, or data compilations in any medium, required by law to be kept or otherwise kept and that constitute a record of the performance or lack of performance of official functions that are or should be carried out by a public official or employee, a governmental agency, or any other agency or improvement district that is wholly or partially supported by public funds or expending public funds. All records maintained in public offices or by public employees within the scope of their employment shall be presumed to be public records.”

What are the duties of records custodians under the law?

The duties that records custodians have under the provisions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act with respect to the administration of their public records include but are not limited to:

  • Records custodians are prohibited from mandating that a requestor provide them a specific reason as it relates to their request to access the public records of said custodians.
  • Records custodians must respond to a request to access their public records within 24 hours. Moreover, in instances where the records that have been requested are unavailable, records custodians are required to assemble the relevant records within three business days.
  • Records custodians are responsible for redacting any exempt information from their public records prior to providing said records to a requestor.
  • Records custodians are required to scan their paper records into an electronic medium such as PDF.
  • Records custodians are permitted to require a requestor to pay an advance fee to access, inspect, or copy their public records, in instances where the estimated fee for such a transaction exceeds $25.
  • Records custodians must allow for their records to be accessed in person, as well as via telephone, fax, physical mail, email, and the internet, where applicable.

What public records are exempt under the provisions of the law?

On the other end of the spectrum, the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act also outlines certain public records and forms of government information are exempt from public disclosure. Some of these exceptions include:

  • State tax records.
  • Medical records.
  • Educational records.
  • Grand jury minutes.
  • Computer security information.
  • License examinations.
  • Undisclosed police investigations.
  • Information that would foster unfair competition.
  • Home addresses of non-elected state employees.
  • Information concerning the security of public infrastructure.
  • Military service discharge details.
  • The identities of undercover law enforcement officials.
  • Unpublished drafts pertaining to judicial opinions.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and redaction

As the inherent nature of public records dictates that confidential information will sometimes be contained within a document that also contains public information, records custodians must take caution with regard to compliance with the law. To this point, said records custodians can enlist in the services of an automatic redaction software program to ensure that they are fulfilling their job functions while simultaneously keeping confidential information secure. As these software programs can easily redact personally identifiable information across a multitude of mediums, including PDF documents, audio files, and video recordings, among others, said software programs will provide records custodians with the toolset needed to comply with legislation such as the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Much like the federal FOIA law was enacted for the purpose of providing the American people with a greater level of transparency with respect to the actions that are undertaken by the federal government, the Arkansas FOIA extends similar rights to citizens that reside within the state. Despite the public records that are exempt from public disclosure under the law, the forms of government information that can be accessed under the law provide citizens of the state of Arkansas with the legal framework necessary to gain a better level of understanding concerning the manner in which the public bodies within the state function.