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Open government group disputes state's ban on cell phone photos of public records


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  It's quickly become second nature to use smart phone cameras to help remember important personal information; taking photos , for example, of important documents, instructions, shopping lists…even recipes.

Tennessee open government advocacy groups are warning, however, that you can't always expect to use your cell camera down at the local courthouse.

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government says some state and local agencies are prohibiting cell phone photos of public documents. Coalition Executive Director Deborah Fisher says the agencies have gotten bad advice on the issue from The Tennessee Office of Open Records Council.

“Frankly, we think they’re in conflict with the law that clearly states that citizens have a right -- that for any record that citizens have a right to inspect they have a right to make a photograph.”

Fisher says state agencies and municipal governments do have the right to to enforce what the law calls “…reasonable rules governing the making of such extracts, copies, photographs or photostats.” However, she notes that photographs are mentioned specifically in the statute as a lawful means of copying public records.

Fisher believes government officials simply haven’t thought the issue through and will eventually change course, something she says many other state officers have already done.

“This has come up in some other states and has quickly been dispensed with, either with an AG opinion or their version of an Office of Open Records Council saying ‘We know the law allows someone to take a picture of a record.’”

If you are told you aren’t allowed to make a copy of a public record, consider contacting your state representative for assistance, or contact the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.