Published March 28 2013
Forum editorial: Turn back accident data billNorth Dakota lawmakers want to restrict public and media access to information that is public now, regarding motor vehicle accidents. The legislation is unnecessary and cynical.
Accident information within strict limitations has been public record for decades. Accident investigators, including local police and state highway patrol, have developed efficient and transparent protocols to get information to press, public and families. The process works well within the mandates of the state’s open records law.
Apparently that’s not good enough for some lawmakers, who seem to have been lobbied by out-of-state businesses and certain legal interests to fit accident reports into a special-interest category in the law. For example, the measure would allow insurance companies and huge commercial publishers known as “agents of insurers” access to the data. But if the local weekly newspaper wanted to do a complete story on a traffic accident, the information would be limited or not available at all.
The flawed reasoning some lawmakers are using is that the bill as amended would prevent identity theft because often included in accident reports are addresses, driver ID numbers, insurance information, etc. The change would exclude all that information, but only for the North Dakota public and press. Full access would be granted to the above-identified “agents of insurance companies,” who will then sell it to businesses like car dealers. Given that provision, the identity theft concern is a fraud.
Furthermore much of the information the bill purports to protect from identity theft is found in state records of all kinds, including hunting licenses, real estate records, even in the telephone book. And, there has never – never – been a case of identity theft attached to accident records during the 50 years the open records law has been in effect.
This smells like a sweetheart bill for a few well-connected business interests. They apparently have worked their magic on enough legislators that North Dakotans’ right to know is threatened. It’s bad legislation. It violates the open government mantra that helps keep North Dakota government open and transparent. If well-heeled special interests have been successful in buying enough lawmakers so the amended bill passes, the governor should veto it.
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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.