Monday, September 22, 2014

Alabama state attorney: Photographing public records for free is ‘stealing’

by   /   September 22, 2014  /  

CULLMAN, Ala. — In what would appear to be a case of government run amuck, at least two state agencies in Alabama won’t let people take pictures of public records, with an attorney for one equating the idea with stealing.
Tim McCollum, an assistant attorney general with the Alabama Department of Public Safety, told AL.com a taxpayer who wants to get a document for free by taking a picture wants “to steal from the citizens of Alabama.”
He said “to get a copy of the contract, you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Wisconsin Dept. of Safety and Professional Services photo
Wisconsin Dept. of Safety and Professional Services photo
COPIES, PLEASE: At least two Alabama state agencies say taxpayers should have to pay for records rather than photograph them for free.
“The government does not own the records,” he told Watchdog.org. “They collect them for the benefit of citizens.”
McCollum didn’t return a phone call or respond to an email from Watchdog on Friday.
Since taxpayers already pay the salaries of those who gather and store the records, trying to force someone to pay for a physical copy rather than photograph a document for free is a form of “double taxation,” Gibson argued.
The situation came to light when an AL.com reporter wanted to use a cell phone camera to take pictures of documents held by the Alabama Department of Corrections, but was prevented from doing so because of a department policy. ADOC wanted to charge the website nearly $30 instead, spurring the Montgomery Advertiser to call the policy “stupid” in a Friday editorial.
AL.com noted the no-photograph policy would appear to directly contradict a 2009 attorney general’s opinion that said the Sumter County probate judge couldn’t prevent someone from taking pictures of documents unless that somehow interfered with the operations of the office.
Photo courtesy of Orr's website
Photo courtesy of Orr's website
ORR: Plans to introduce legislation in 2015 that would let citizens use cameras to take photographs of public records.
One Alabama state senator hopes to change the law. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, plans to introduce a bill in the 2015 legislative session that would allow people to use cameras or cell phone cameras to photograph those records free of charge, allowing only a small retrieval fee if the records are kept off-site.