The debate on the balance between individual privacy and the public’s right to information about public business is back in the center of attention as the New Jersey State Legislature continues to debate the state’s open government laws. Assemblyman Jack M. Ciattarelli announced his plans to introduce legislation that would amend New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to exclude citizens’ email addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information from disclosure. He argues that the change is needed to protect the privacy of residents who provide personal information when they enroll in government programs or sign up for notification systems.
Ciattarelli (R-Somerset) maintains that he supports transparency in government, but that his bill is needed to remedy an unintended consequence of OPRA. “This is a matter of safeguarding the privacy rights of individuals,” said Ciattarelli. “The general public is largely unaware that when they sign up for government programs, newsletters, and notices their personal information could be obtained by third-parties due to our state’s OPRA law,” he continued.
As we have previously discussed on this New Jersey public law blog, state lawmakers are currently considering other amendments to the state’s open records laws. However, these changes are intended to make it easier for citizens to obtain public records. For instance, OPRA amendments proposed by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) would extend public record obligations to quasi-governmental organizations engaged in service to the public and expand the definition of public record.
The debate in the New Jersey State Legislature opens a rare window to the legislative process beyond partisan bickering. The issue of achieving a proper balance between open records and privacy concerns is as real today as it was for our founding fathers when they implemented their vision of democratic government. OPRA is one of those issues where the debate is as important as the result and the NJ Legislature is proving that they are up for the task.