Guiding Principles

  1. Citizen access to public information, and citizen participation in the affairs of governmental bodies, should be ensured by restricting such access only within narrow and carefully defined exceptions to the First Amendment and to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

  2. FOIA disclosure rules must be liberally construed; open-record and open-meeting exemptions, whether permitted by FOIA exceptions or mandated by other provisions of the state constitution or laws, must be narrowly construed.

  3. Access to public records must be provided on a timely basis and, whenever feasible, in the format requested by a citizen.

  4. Record access should be provided at little or no cost to the citizen. Any fees generated by conversion of the record to a form not mandated by law should not exceed the actual costs for search time and copying. Search fees should be capped at the hourly rate for the lowest classification of employee capable of conducting such a search.

  5. Electronic storage or "outsourcing" of data collection and retrieval do not alter the basic nature of public records, and thus must not be used to circumvent these open-government principles.

  6. As required by law, public bodies must provide for timely, affordable access in the planning, design and procurement of electronic data-storage and processing systems. Frequently requested records, including timely reports of key agency and committee deliberations, should routinely be provided online.

  7. Electronic mail dealing with public business must be treated as public records, and should be prominently posted at easily accessible sites. At the very least, communications relating to public business by a quorum (if fewer than three) or among three or more public officials, by means of electronic chat rooms, list-serves, or other instant messaging services, must be subject to traditional rules for public meetings.

  8. Government should not assert a proprietary interest in using or disseminating public information. Copyright or other forms of intellectual property protection may not be used to evade the need for maximum disclosure of public records.

  9. Where the gathering or dissemination of information has historically been a private sector function, government should not use its power or resources -- much less its legal sanctions -- to displace or supplant private information providers.

  10. Privacy is best protected by strictly limiting government agencies to collection of that confidential personal information for which they have an absolute need and clearly articulated use. Data systems should be designed to facilitate redaction, and redaction must occur whenever a record contains non-public information, to ensure maximum dissemination of public information. Social security numbers, bank-account numbers and credit-card information should be fully or partially removed from all public records.