Fix our broken public records law

Click on the graphics above for full-sized versions to share on social media.

Why does freedom of information matter?

Surveillance is conducted in secret. Inequality thrives in the shadows. Free speech withers when basic facts are hidden.

The Massachusetts public records law is broken. Journalists, concerned citizens, and others with a need—and right—to know how our government is working often can’t get that information. The costs are too high, delay and obstruction are standard operating procedure, and there’s no way to hold record-keepers accountable.

Read our fact sheet, and learn more:
Public records FAIL

Take Action

Our public records law hasn’t been substantially updated since 1973. It’s time to bring it into the 21st century.

Legislation

The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with allies in the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance (MassFOIA), urge the state legislature to swiftly pass reforms to our public records law to increase access to public information.

An Act to Improve Access to Public Records, filed by Rep. Peter Kocot (H.2772) & Sen. Lewis (S.1676) would:

  • Create accountability by directing courts to award attorney’s fees when agencies unlawfully deny access to public information. The overwhelming majority of states (46 of them, plus the federal government) have evened the scales of justice by allowing or requiring attorney’s fees in various circumstances—a proven incentive against obstruction and in favor of obeying the law in the first place.
  • Ensure that public records in electronic form, such as emails and spreadsheets, are provided electronically instead of printed out on paper. This will save paper, time, and money all around.
  • Make records affordable, with only nominal fees that reflect the actual costs of the records and do not inhibit access. Because public information should be accessible to ordinary members of the public, not only to the wealthy.
  • Streamline the access process by designating “records access officers” in state agencies to facilitate requests. Assigning a point person reduces bureaucratic complexity for agencies and records-seekers alike.

Read our testimony from the May 26 hearing on public records reform.

Media

Editorials

2015

Boston Herald: Give records law teeth

The Salem News: Our view: Time to reform state’s public records laws

Boston Globe: Public records law subverted by high fees

Boston Globe: With Mass. public records law in tatters, it’s time for reform

Boston Herald: Time for ‘Sunshine’

Patriot Ledger: Giving police discretion to keep public arrest records secret is criminal

Lowell Sun: Strengthen Mass. public-records law

Eagle Tribune (republished in Salem News, Newburyport Daily News and Gloucester Daily Times): Public records law needs improvements

The Recorder: Vigilance required for open government

Daily Hampshire Gazette: Proposed records reform gives citizens their due

Don Landgren, graphics editor at Worcester Telegram & Gazette: Sunshine Week cartoon

2014

Lowell Sun: What does Sunshine Week and open government mean to you? A lot!

Patriot Ledger: Governments need to open up and let the sun shine in

2012

The Enterprise: Secretive ways a source of embarrassment for state

Vineyard Gazette: Sunshine For All

Springfield Republican: Massachusetts public records law needs a major overhaul

Op-eds and blogs

Sen. Jason Lewis, Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Peter Kocot, sponsors of the legislation, in The Republican: ‘Sunshine Week’ illuminates shortfalls of Massachusetts public record law

Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in CommonWealth Magazine: Fix the broken Public Records Law

The Civil Liberties Minute: Why is freedom of information so damn expensive in Massachusetts?

Blue Mass Group: Massachusetts needs sunshine—and not just outside

MuckRock: Beacon Hill badly in need of some sunshine

Northeastern’s journalism school faculty: ‘We stand with papers’ push to reform public records law’

Robert J. Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association: A ray of hope for the public records law

Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral in South Coast Today: Technology, the key to transparency in government

Reporter George Levines in Boston Globe: In Mass., public records can be hard to get

Worcester Telegram & Gazette: Closing the books: Many police not heeding log rules

Shocking Stories

Read 10 stories of public records obstacles and lack of accountability.

Boston Globe: Records request comes with a price for lawyer seeking answers

Boston.com: Here’s how bad public records laws are in Massachusetts

The Enterprise: Bridgewater State sets price for records request over $60,000

Lowell Sun: Sun’s bid for public records of Tiano’s settlement denied in Chelmsford

Daily Hampshire Gazette: Manager of Hadley Public Access Television halts disposal of recordings of government meetings

MassLive: UMass officials put nearly $11K price tag on The Republican’s public records request relating to Blarney Blowout concert

Boston Herald: MBTA cop fund defies calls to open books

Boston Globe: Costs, delays keep public e-mails private in Mass.

Boston Globe: Ruling allows police to withhold officers’ drunken driving records

FOX 25: Hefty price tag for MBTA emails prompts call for records reform

MuckRock: Cambridge wants $3,648 for emails between Harvard University Police and the CPD

The Daily Hampshire Gazette:
State Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton files legislation to reform state’s Public Records Law

Bay State Examiner: Massachusetts State Police impose fee to determine fee

WBUR: Mass. Receives C Grade In Political Corruption Study

Cape Cod Times: Legislative effort aims to improve transparency

Worcester Telegram & Gazette: Policing the logs: Public Records Law violations shown

Related Cases

ACLU of Massachusetts v. North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council
A state lawsuit seeking the release of documents about the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council’s SWAT team and other military-style tactics. NEMLEC has claimed that it is a private entity, not subject to the Massachusetts public records law.

ACLU of Massachusetts v. FBI
Our federal lawsuit seeks the release of documents about the Commonwealth’s participation in secretive federal-state-local teams known as “Joint Terrorism Task Forces,” and about Ibragim Todashev, the associate of Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed in May 2013 while being interrogated by a Boston FBI agent and two Massachusetts State Police officers.

The Latest

Fix our broken public records law

Journalists, concerned citizens, and others with a need—and right—to know how our government is working can't get that »
SUPPORT ACLUm

@ACLU_Mass