Public Records Requests and a Webinar

As a Laserfiche service and support partner, we see many Laserfiche user trends in the agency space. One mode we are starting to see is using Laserfiche to manage public records requests and (just as importantly) to comply with the PRA. WE hear both the positives and the difficulties.

From the actual number of requests (through the roof, BTW) to the complexity of the various requests to the layers of authorizations each request needs to receive, we thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the common problems and offer suggestions to solve them.

The number of requests has increased.

As the population increases, so do the number of requests. Also, at least at the federal level, all agencies must respond within 20 business days. In 2019, there were 858,952 requests. That’s a 40% uptick over the past eight years. With the volume and velocity of data governments generate, requests take longer because there is more information to sift through. And you’ll want to have more eyes approving that request because, increasingly, citizens are requesting more types of information (social, video, etc.). While it would be impossible for me to know the number of requests to every US local agency, it stands to reason that you are experiencing an uptick also.

Lawsuits, lawyers, and repeat requests

As long as we have had public records, we have had public records lawsuits. Of course, if there are more records and more requests and more data to go through and more approvals to seek, THEN–(gasp) there will be more lawsuits. There are probably more lawyers too.

Anecdotally, I’m hearing from records managers that they are receiving more litigation threats when requests aren’t filled quickly enough or are not approved for release. There are approximately a thousand records lawsuits filed yearly at the federal level, so those lawyers mentioned previously aren’t at loose ends. They are making the same request multiple times. It is so common that there’s a legal name for them. They are called “vexatious requesters,” which means “denoting an action or the bringer of an action that is brought without sufficient grounds for winning, purely to cause annoyance to the defendant.” Vexatious requests are a common harassment technique. Frequently, these extreme requesters clog up the PRA queue. I’ve seen news reports about attorneys requesting all reports, videos, and dispatch records from a large police department over a year. Sometimes these requests are dropped or are deemed unnecessary. In the spirit of transparency, records managers of my acquaintance genuinely try to respond to every request. So, nuisance requests increase the workload exponentially.

Laserfiche and Public Records Requests

I know that there exists software for responding to FOIA requests. However, if you have Laserfiche, why not give us the stretch assignment? We have the PRA processes built and running for clients–so they are getting over and above the electronic file cabinet product usage. One local agency that uses Laserfiche for PRA needed to have hundreds of occurrences of PII redacted. They were doing it by hand, and it took an enormous amount of time. It inspired me to architect a workflow that would auto-redact that information, saving much staff labor.

We’re conducting a webinar at the end of the month (Tuesday, August 24th at 11 AM PDT) to illustrate how Laserfiche automates records requests. You can sign up here.

See you at the webinar!