Vallejo drops contact info requirement for public records


(Graphic by Solano NewsNet)

The City of Vallejo is no longer requiring a person to submit identify information like a name or address as part of a request for public records.

The move comes less than two months after a not-for-profit public interest group urged city officials in Vallejo to accept public records requests without forcing a person to divulge their personal information.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) allows anyone to demand the inspection of most records held by a public agency. Records covered under the CPRA include police reports, invoices, photos, videos and other documents or media that are regularly created and retained by an agency as part of normal public business.

Like most cities, Vallejo uses an online service to receive and fulfill public records requests. Until recently, that service, called NextRequest, required submitters to provide contact information as part of their request, including a name, address and phone number. A message warned users that a request could not be submitted without contact information.

The issue caught the attention of the First Amendment Coalition and its legal director, David Loy, who sent a letter to the city attorney urging them to stop requiring personal information as part of a public records request.

"The CPRA makes public records available to any person, without more — it does not require that a person requesting records provide a name, address or telephone number," Foy wrote in his letter.

The law allows agencies to collect nominal fees associated with processing some requests, but Loy said cities cannot justify a demand for personal information simply to provide invoices to people who exercise their legal right under the public records law.

Loy said cities can fulfill their need for contact information by allowing requesters to provide an e-mail address, but should not force them to do so. He cited a court decision in Florida that said cities could not require requestors to provide contact information, though that decision has no bearing on public agencies in California.

Earlier this month, the NextRequest website was updated so individuals and organizations can submit records requests to Vallejo without providing contact information, though the city says it will not able to follow up with requesters if they do not provide it. It is also unclear how the city is expected to fulfill records requests to submitters who do not provide a physical or e-mail address.

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