On Friday, June 3, Governor Baker signed the public records reform bill approved in late May by both the state Senate and House of Representatives. The following statement may be attributed to Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which led efforts to pass the reform:
"Today we celebrate a major win for open government in Massachusetts. For the first time in more than four decades, we finally have a real way for the public to enforce our state public records law. As in nearly every other state in the country, courts in Massachusetts will now have the power to make government agencies pay when they illegally deny access to information that rightfully belongs to the public.
"The ACLU thanks Governor Baker for his signature today and for his administration's proactive efforts to improve transparency. We also thank House and Senate leadership, as well as the cosponsors of the bill, for prioritizing these important reforms and working to make them a reality. Without their vision and action, we would not be here today. In this time of fierce partisanship, we have achieved something remarkable: unanimous, bipartisan legislation to make government more open and accountable to the people."
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 Flow Chart
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 (47 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.
- Patriot Ledger: Put the attorney general in charge of public records
- Boston Globe: Senate must improve House’s weak public records bill
- Boston Globe: The time for meaningful public records reform is now
- Boston Herald: Grumbling on records
- WGBH: The 2015 Muzzle Awards: Spotlighting 10 Who Diminish Free Speech
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in MetroWest Daily: Fixing the public records law
- 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
- Boston Herald: T's fee to disclose new hires' ties to state officials blasted
- Boston Globe: Mass. among the worst in US for public records access
- Boston Globe: Often a national leader, Massachusetts ranks near the bottom in government transparency
- 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
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.