Access to Information
Government Runs on Information
Government collects and uses information in its work on behalf of the public. This information, or government data, is anything in recorded form, such as email, draft documents, correspondence, and reports. Government data can be recorded on paper or electronically, in photographs, on DVD's, in videotapes, etc.
Government must keep records of its official activities, which vary depending on the entity's mission and responsibilities. Government must maintain its official records according to a records retention schedule. Official records can be destroyed only according to a schedule or with special permission. Some government data are official records while some are not.
Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, the Data Practices Act
The Data Practices Act balances:
- The public's right to know about their government
- The government's need to have/use data to do its work
- Individual privacy rights
A Few Key Points
The general rule of the Data Practices Act is that all government data are presumed public. Anyone can have public data for any reason.
However, the Minnesota Legislature, by passing a law, can make data not public. In addition, the Commissioner of Administration can temporarily make data not public until the Legislature can act. There also may be a federal law that says data are not public.
The Data Practices Act establishes the responsible authority as the data practices decision-maker in each government entity. The law also requires the responsible authority to appoint a data practices compliance official.
The Data Practices Act requires that each government entity have:
- An inventory of data on individuals
- Access procedures for public data
- Access procedures for subjects of government data that also explain their rights
Data Practices Requests
Anyone can see and have copies of public data. Certain laws may limit who may be able to see not public data. The access procedures are guides for people requesting data and for government employees who respond to requests for data.
The Data Practices Act distinguishes requests for public data and requests from individuals for data about themselves. One of the major differences is in the time government has to respond. The response times are:
- Ten business days for data subjects requesting information about themselves
- A "reasonable amount of time" for non-data subjects requesting public data
As mentioned earlier, all data are presumed public unless classified otherwise by state or federal law. Examples of some data that are not public at certain times and under certain circumstances include:
- Certain data about government employees
- Welfare data
- Active criminal investigative data
Violations of the Data Practices Act can Result in Civil and Criminal Penalties
The Legislature and Judiciary Are Not Subject to the Data Practices Act - Each Has Their Own Data Access Rules