I had an interesting question come up last week that is worth pondering more. Apparently a public governmental body in the state has created a website where it now posts its agenda and meeting notices for upcoming meetings. It also posts its minutes for past meetings there.
The problem is that if you want to access those minutes and agendas, you must create a log-in and password and then must log-in before you are permitted to download anything from the site. (And, of course, that allows them to identify your IP address in the process.) I find that troubling. The law is clear that a public body cannot demand you identify yourself before requesting a public record. I've pointed out in the past several times that there is no basis for a public body to ask you WHY you want a record before giving it to you and certainly it is irrelevant to your request for the record just who you might be.
Now, if the public body still makes the records available at its main office, then I am left in a quandry about this website. The record is still available to the requester who arrives in person without the person making the request having to identify himself or herself. But the ability to acquire it quickly and easily from the Internet requires that you go to the trouble of creating an identity to do so. Certainly there's nothing, one assumes, preventing you from creating a false identity, using a generic email address, and acquiring the record that way. And certainly the sunshine law does not require the public body to create this website, so arguably in return for the convenience of easy access, you must give up some form of an identity.
Still, it's troubling. I know there are other public bodies (for example, the Jackson County legislature and the Kansas City, Mo., city council) who make such documents available online without the need of identifying yourself. Certainly there are ways for a public body to avoid the risk of an attack on the website without requiring everyone using the web site to identify themselves. Plus, I assume collecting IP addresses happens without the need to actually register on a site.
Still, such a process just creates an inference of suspicion and distrust and secrecy for a public body. If it wants to show the public it believes in openness, this certainly is one way to start.
Happy Sunshine Week, all! You are all welcome at the Missouri Sunshine Coalition's program Thursday night. More details about that program can be found at the MoPress website. (Yes, I too wonder why it's not at www.missourisunshine.org. Maybe I can get that fixed!)