Thursday, May 22, 2008
AG: No Permission Needed to Transmit Databases With Personal Data
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A county does not have to obtain the permission of public officials whose addresses and telephone numbers incidentally appear in databases of property-related information in order to transmit that database over a limited-access network, Attorney General Jerry Brown held in an opinion made public yesterday.
Interpreting Government Code Sec. 6254.21(a)’s prohibition against the posting of the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official on the Internet by government agencies without prior written consent, Brown reasoned that the Legislature did not intend a comprehensive literal application of the statute and concluded that the subject of the ban was any form of information that expressly associates the private contact information with specific public officials.
However, he did opine that the statute could extend to any database that contains both the home information and the names and titles of those officials that would permit a search engine to connect each officer with his personal information using only that database, but concluded no evidence existed to read the statutory language more broadly.
El Dorado County Counsel Louis B. Green had posed the question to the Attorney General, presupposing the use of a limited-access network employing Internet technology in combination with security devices to allow authorized users access to information that would not identify public officials as such.
Chief Assistant County Counsel Ed Knapp said that Green had submitted the inquiry immediately after the passage of Sec. 6254.21(a) specifically because title companies wanted to obtain records from the El Dorado Recorder-Clerk & Registrar’s Office.
“Somewhere in the title records for the entire county are going to be public officials,” he explained, “but we have no way of knowing if say, the parks and recreation director from Azusa has a condo in Lake Tahoe.”
Out of fear that a public official’s records would be disclosed, Knapp said, county agencies were not utilizing the Internet and the Recorder-Clerk’s Office was having title companies access records via dial-up modem.
He explained that various county offices, such as the recorder, assessor and tax collector maintained huge numbers of public records which are accessible to anyone who walks into the county office, and wanted to use modern technology to post information on the internet in order to save money.
However, after the passage of the law, Knapp said the county was “stymied.” He crticized the law for “holding up the march of progress,” and praised Brown’s opinion for taking a “practical approach” to the issue.
Privacy laws are “the wave of the future,” Knapp predicted, and in the wake of Brown’s opinion, whiche he said was “how we thought it ought to come out,” more records and information will be made available on the Internet.
Knapp also noted that Brown’s opinion did not address certain issues, such as what constitutes an address. He cited a title document to his own house as an example, which contained a metes and bounds description of his property and provided his name, suggesting that a “smart person” could figure out his address from that information.
“So in that way, isn’t that metes and bounds description the same thing [as my address]?” he queired.
“[W]e’re kind of all just scratching our heads about what type of database can be used. Everyone is just trying to figure out if their database is okay.”
The opinion, prepared by Deputy Attorney General Daniel G. Stone, is No. 06-802.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company