Several new bills have been introduced in the North Carolina state legislature that would change the N.C. Public Records Act and further restrict people’s access to public records in the state.
Online Public Records Access
House Bill 3 seeks to give state agencies, counties and towns in North Carolina the option of offering online public record searches instead of offering printed hard copies of public records to people and organizations.
HB3 states that any public agency in North Carolina that offers online access to public records is not required to offer copies of public records in any other format, unless they choose to do so voluntarily.
In addition, if a government agency does agree to provide hard copies of public records to people and organizations, they are allowed to negotiate a “reasonable” fee for this additional records service.
Some people are worried that that wording in HB3 regarding “reasonable” fees gives government agencies in North Carolina too much leeway in setting fees and determining if public records will be offered any other way than through public online searches.
There is also concern that HB3 will make it harder for people to get copies of North Carolina public records in their original format.
Consumer Data Protections
Additional public record restrictions in HB3 would hide the identities and personal information of people who contact certain government departments in North Carolina, by officially excluding this personal information from the public record.
Any phone numbers, dates of birth, street addresses and Social Security numbers that people provide to government agencies are already classified as private by state law in North Carolina. However, HB3 would add additional pieces of personal information to that privacy list.
Specifically, HB3 would make private the identities of people who contact the North Carolina Utilities Commission with complaints against a public utility. Utility commission employees would only be allowed to share the identities of people in the event that a public utility needed the information to handle customer issues.
HB3 would also remove the email addresses and customer IDs that are kept by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and Division of Marine Fisheries from the public record in North Carolina.
Mug Shot Privacy
Another bill that was introduced in the North Carolina legislature this week is House Bill 18 (HB18). This bill would make a person’s mug shots for misdemeanor crimes private. These photos would no longer be considered a part of the public record in North Carolina.
If HB18 becomes law in North Carolina, the only mug shots that would be considered public criminal records would be photos taken of people who are arrested for felony criminal offenses.
Changing Public Records Law
It is still uncertain whether or not these proposed changes to North Carolina’s public records act will ever become law. However, if these bills do become law, they will further limit the scope of public records in North Carolina and restrict people’s access to official government records in the state.