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Taking away public access

Friday, February 08, 2013 - Updated: 5:29 PM

An unfortunate provision in New York's new SAFE Act may be the first step in a march toward diminishing public access to government records. It is a march that must be halted.

The state Senate's Environmental Conservation Committee was to take up a measure that would make private the information provided on applications for hunting, fishing and gaming licenses. The bill, sponsored by Buffalo-area state Sen. Mark Grisanti, comes just weeks after New York's gun owners were granted the right to opt out of allowing their names and addresses to be publicly accessible.

That privacy provision was part of the state law passed last month in response to shootings in Newtown, Conn., and in Webster. It was added in reaction to the decision of the Journal News of White Plains to publish an interactive map of local gun owners. The gun owners complained their privacy was violated and sympathetic lawmakers accommodated them.

There's no such outcry surrounding DEC permits for fishing, hunting and the like. Instead, the bill's sponsors cite, "growing ... concern about identify theft" and a new automated licensing system that collects personal information that shouldn't be shared.

To the latter argument, no one's suggesting hunters' driver license numbers or medical histories be made public. But if fears of identity theft are an acceptable reason to shroud public documents, proponents of democracy ought to shudder at what might be next.

It is not a leap to wonder if now-public information such as voter registrations and deed transfers might soon fall within the shadow of excessive privacy laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ran on a platform of government transparency and reform. There has been precious little of either. Should Grisanti's bill reach his desk, he should have his veto pen at the ready.

State government has problems. Too much public information isn't one of them.

-- The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

     

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