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New technology requires innovative approaches for cities' information access improvements.

Advanced computerized data bases and electronic methods for storing and disseminating public information are now widely available. Agencies may now provide access to public data on a 24-hour basis through on-line networks. However, in the face of pending state and federal action, it remains to be seen whether these high efficiency systems will flourish on the local level.

Current fiscal conditions contribute to the interest in these high-tech systems, as municipal governments find they will save employe time, hence money, by streamlining their current data retrieval systems. The problem for budget-conscious local officials, however, is that they must also recoup any front-end investment they may make in the purchase or development of these data bases. Therefore, cities may be discouraged from R&D in this area as state and federal jurisdictional issues surface.

Fees for Commercial Users

There is little doubt that these electronic systems have the potential for new revenue-generation at a time when funding sources are scarce on all levels of government. State entities ar just beginning to realize the commercial value of such data systems. Now that an incredible amount of public information can be conveniently stored and packaged, some regions receive significant revenues through the sale of this data to private industry - such as title information, and driver's license and permit mailing lists.

States

In California, some 14,000 commercial "requesters" and nearly 8,000 government and law enforcement agencies submit over 110 million data inquiries. According to a November, 1991 article in the California Journal, revenues for California's data sales for the 1990-91 fiscal year was projected to exceed $50 million. At the same time, we are finding many states, like Virginia, that are proposing legislation to limit the charges localities may make for computer services under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Federal

On the federal level, legislation to provide for public access to information under the FOIA, must be carefully scrutinized so that municipal government continues to maintain primary control over local data. New legislation promising to bring FOIA into the electronic information age may mean that user fees for on-line, or other computerized requests for public data, may be prohibited.

Privacy

As technologies develop, new methods for preventing electronic data from compromising personal privacy should also be considered. The large scale movement of data from one system to another, or from one political jurisdiction to another, is likely to create new privacy risks.

NLC Policy

The Transportation and Communications Policy Committe has made public information access a priority for 1992. The National League of Cities has no formal policy on this issue.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related information about the report; Special Report: Taking the Computer Plunge
Author:Ferrera, Anna Pulido
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 15, 1992
Words:430
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