Address disclosure upheld, a 'clear' ruling for open records
The state Supreme Court has shot down a ploy used by many governmental bodies and officials, often under a false premise, to deny access to public records.
It agreed with a Commonwealth Court finding that inclusion of a home address in a record does not exempt it from disclosure.
The case involved a would-be congressional candidate, Mel M. Marin, who would not provide his home address on campaign documents. In a ruling last year, the Commonwealth Court found that "there is no constitutional right to privacy in one's home address under the Pennsylvania Constitution." It quoted an earlier Supreme Court case: "...an individual cannot reasonably expect that his identity and home addresses will remain secret."
Though the case is narrow, it has broad implications because a number of public records requests involving public employees have been denied based on the false premise that the data violates privacy because it includes home addresses. In those cases, the requests most often were not simply for home addresses, but for other information relative to public business.
Terry Muchler, head of the state Open Records Office, said "it's a big case, and it's a very clear result."
She said there might well be cases where a home address would not be released due to security concerns. The presumption that a record containing a home address automatically is exempt has been eliminated, however, placing the burden on the government agency holding the record to prove why it should not be disseminated.
The decision puts that burden where it belongs, and further solidifies public disclosure as a public right and a governmental duty.