Friday, March 18, 2011

Public Notice

I disagree with some conservatives-including one of my best friends- about proposed changes to public notice requirements in Tennessee law:

Many ordinary members of the citizenry would never think to visit some of the websites-such as the Secretary of State or the Office of the Comptroller-on a regular basis to view relevant public notices which might be posted there. A greater concern in the estimation that around 25% of Tennesseans do not have regular access to the internet, and would not so much as have the opportunity to view public notices of meetings and government actions. Limiting public availability of such notices has the effect of limiting the knowledge of the people who might be effected.

An unspoken and often unthought-of concern when dealing with the question of whether internet-only public notice is sufficient for the purpose historical record keeping for future generations. While the internet has many fine historical archives online, these are filled with transcripts or PDF files of hard paper documents. Without original hard documentation, a historical record is incomplete and ineffective for the purpose of an archival file. This is simply because an internet site can be changed much more quickly and less evidently to the average viewer than a paper record. It is also very easy to simply remove a website and all of its contents, but paper records have to be shredded or burnt. Responsible internet archivists, who are performing a great service to people as internet access increases, are intelligent enough to keep hard copies of nearly all of their major information. Posting public information on the internet alone without allowing ready public access to paper copies of the same subject matter endangers the ability of historians to do their future duty to chronicle the public life of early 21st-Century Tennessee, and endangers the availability of public records in the years and decades ahead.

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