Recently a local television reporter claimed that my office and other state government agencies were collecting data and selling that information to direct mail marketers and others. But he failed to mention that as a state agency, under the Colorado Open Records Act we must share our information.
In the private sector, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office would be a high-volume e-commerce business. We manage huge databases; voter records, campaign finance donors, business records, and charities and non-profits. We maintain these records, protect any personal identifying information (like social security or driver’s license numbers) and make them publicly available through searchable databases.
Open government information plays a critical role in our society. If a resident suffers from a negligent contractor, she can use our database to quickly find that company. Donors can find charities that match their goals and meet responsible spending practices. Voters can find who financially supports our political leaders, and residents can verify current notaries to avoid problems with a real estate transaction.
We provide many of these services in an easily accessible, online system to give our citizens what they need – usually at no cost. For larger data requests, we charge a fee to recoup our costs so that we can keep our business filing fees among the lowest in the nation.
Now, it may make for good television to claim our office sells data to direct-mail marketers – but that story simply misses the mark. In reality, we open our information to everybody – individuals, businesses, and even businesses like televisions stations and newspapers.
The government shouldn’t pick winners and losers when it comes to who gets access to public records. Many in the media take advantage of open records requests so they can write stories, attract viewers, and generate a profit. I applaud that. But we give others access to the same information, so everyone has a fair playing field. And when someone abuses the information to try to mislead people, my office has a proven track record of aggressively going after scam artists.
Over the years, the Secretary of State’s office has moved from mostly paper filings to a secure, virtualized environment that promotes transparency from any computer terminal, smartphone or tablet. We firmly believe we are one of the most sophisticated offices in the country and are proud that we not only talk about openness and accountability, but practice it using some of the most advanced web-based technology available.
Scott Gessler was elected as Colorado’s Secretary of State in 2010.