UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Access to public records legislation in North America : a content analysis Weber, David Allen


This thesis examines federal, state and provincial legislation concerning access to public records in the United States and Canada using content analysis as a method for gathering data. The analysis focuses on the following specific statutory elements: the legislative intent or purpose, eligibility, the definition of records or public records, the duration of exemptions, severability, responsiveness to requests, and publication of information about records. The elements are discussed from the perspective of archival theory and practice. With regard to legislative intent or purpose, the most appropriately expressed clearly confer a right of access to records. If the overall purpose is accountability, right of access is best conferred on citizens. If general openness is the aim, eligibility for all persons is more fitting. When legislative definitions of public records and a model definition are compared, the model definition covers a broader concept of public agencies than is normal within the scope of existing access legislation. A more consistent application of the definition would also have legislators define records instead of public records, and provide a means of identifying more specifically those public agencies which fall within the purview of the legislation. Because the passage-of-time principle has rarely formed part of legislation, it is possible that, contrary to the spirit of access legislation, exemptions may apply in perpetuity. Although provisions for severability of information result in the release of more records, they may also affect the probative value of records. With regard to responsiveness to requests and provision of information about records, government agencies might take advantage of the expertise and experience of archivists in providing reference services and producing finding aids. The overall results point to the appropriateness of adopting a unified view of public records administration with the archivist and the record administrator each moving beyond traditional bounds of responsibility for historical records and active records, respectively. For archivists, the introduction of access to public records legislation represents an opportunity to make their expertise more widely available to administer access to records at all stages.

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