The Public Information Act of Texas, Data Privacy Law
The Public Information Act of Texas or the TPIA for short is a public records access law that was first passed in 1973. The TPIA was enacted for the purpose of ensuring that residents within the state of Texas had the right to access the public records and information that is maintained by their respective state government agencies, at all levels of government. Prior to the enactment of the TPIA in 1973, government records could only be accessed at the discretion of the custodian of said records. With all this being said, the TPIA establishes the protocols that government agencies within Texas must follow in order to make their public records open and available for copying and inspection.
How is a government body defined under the TPIA?
The provisions of the TPIA define a government body as “a board, commission, department, committee, institution, agency, or office that is within or is created by the executive or legislative branch of state government and that is directed by one or more elected or appointed members; a county commissioners court in the state; a municipal governing body in the state; a deliberative body that has rulemaking or quasi-judicial power and that is classified as a department, agency, or political subdivision of a county or municipality; a school district board of trustees; a county board of school trustees; a county board of education; the governing board of a special district;”
What are the duties of government bodies under the TPIA?
Some of the duties that government bodies have under the provisions of the TPIA as it concerns making their public records and information accessible to citizens of the state include but are not limited to:
- Government bodies are responsible for formulating rules that Texas residents can follow when looking to inspect or copy a government body’s public records or information.
- Government bodies must undergo open records training, as mandated by law.
- Government bodies have a duty to respond to all requests to access their public records promptly or as soon as possible.
- Government bodies are required to provide notice to third parties whenever a Texas citizen requests access to the proprietary information of the said third party.
- Government bodies must confirm the costs related to a request to access their public records prior to facilitating said request.
- Government bodies are responsible for redacting any personally identifiable information that may be contained within their public records prior to disseminating these records to the general public.
- Government bodies have an obligation to treat all requestors fairly and equally.
What public records are exempt from disclosure under the TPIA?
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a number of public records that are exempt from disclosure to the general public under the TPIA. Some examples of public records and information that are exempt from the law include:
- Records or information that must remain confidential under other applicable state or federal legislation.
- The transcripts of professional public school employees.
- Information relating to criminal investigations within the state of Texas.
- Medical records and healthcare information.
- Records of 9-1-1 calls.
- Trade secrets, as well as commercial and financial information.
- Records that must remain confidential under attorney-client privilege.
- Educational records that must remain confidential under the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 or FERPA.
- Personally identifiable information such as postal addresses, social security numbers, and telephone numbers, among others.
How can government bodies within Texas comply with the TPIA?
As government bodies within Texas have an obligation to redact personally identifiable information from their public records prior to disclosing them to a requestor, they are faced with a challenge when looking to comply with legislation such as the TPIA. To combat this issue, automatic redaction software can be used to secure the personal privacy and security of all parties involved. Through the use of these software programs, users can automatically redact personal information in a wide range of categories, including names, physical and email addresses, and credit card numbers, in an effort to safeguard personal information. As such, a government body within Texas could use this software to redact personal information from a particular public record, ensuring that they can provide the requestor with all necessary information, while also maintaining compliance with the TPIA.
Following the enactment of the federal Freedom of Information Act or FOIA in 1967, a new standard was set across the U.S. as it pertains to government accountability and transparency. To this point, every state within the U.S. has adopted legislation that mirrors the provisions of the federal FOIA law, for the purpose of providing citizens with the right to access public records and information at their leisure. Within the state of Texas, this legislation has taken the form of the Public Information Act of Texas, as the law affords citizens of the state the right to observe the manner in which their tax dollars are being spent by their local government officials.