What is Data Security’s Role in Public Records?

Moving from time-consuming, manual operations to highly automated and more efficient processes for public records requires a substantial reliance on technology. Advanced technology has improved and expedited an agency’s ability to produce public records requests, and has also introduced new forms of public records altogether (e.g. body camera footage).

Why is Data Security Relevant?

Before the dawn of the digital age, “data security” may have meant locking a file cabinet. Today, data security also includes electronic information contained in computer files and other digital devices. Many public records files contain personally identifiable information (PII) which is sensitive or nonsensitive data that can be used to identify an individual or distinguish someone from another. If sensitive PII falls into the wrong hands, the data can be used for identity theft or other nefarious purposes. In fact, each state has legislation in place to notify individuals of security breaches that involve PII.

Data infrastructure is especially critical for government agencies, given the type of data they handle on a daily basis. Establishing a single-tenant architecture database – where no other customer has access to a client’s data – helps ensure the highest level of security. Additionally, compliance with the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policy and the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) is of the utmost importance to government agencies. Adhering to (or better yet, exceeding) the latest national standards keeps sensitive information from being compromised.

Government jurisdictions gather and store an enormous amount of personal information and need to prevent unnecessary data exposure when processing public records requests. Recent wide-ranging data leaks, including those of voter registration records and internal law enforcement files, show the vulnerabilities that exist in keeping data safe. Implementing data security measures will help agencies limit the risks of a data breach and ensure that only the proper information is shared in records requests.

Know the FOIA Exemptions and Establish Best Practices

Every government agency should know its state’s law when it comes to public records. Not all records are required to be released under the FOIA and Congress has established exemptions and exclusions to protect citizens from an invasion of privacy and law enforcement from investigation interference. These exemptions serve as the first line of defense in data security and include information related to:

  • National security
  • Internal personnel rules or operations of an agency
  • Data that is protected from disclosure by another law
  • Confidential or privileged trade secrets or commercial or financial information
  • Privileged communications between or within agencies
  • Personal privacy
  • Ongoing law enforcement investigations
  • Financial institution supervision
  • Geological data on wells

When records are required to be released, agencies must take the necessary steps to prevent data exposure and that can mean redacting sensitive PII from records. In-tool redaction software makes it easier for government employees to censure PII from all formats — paper, digital, and video files. Redaction is streamlined with features such as: text search, pattern matching, redact similar, exemption tracking, and responsive records packeting.

Enhance Data Security with Seamless Software Solutions

Getting a handle on data security requires understanding and overcoming the challenges that agency users face each day. By centralizing and monitoring processes within GovQA’s customizable software, jurisdictions can uphold the important responsibility of mitigating data threats. Users face a number of technology challenges, including:

  • Passwords — passwords serve as an important barrier of protection; however, when they are breached, leaked, or otherwise compromised passwords provide little protection. Multi-factor authentication adds a layer of security by requiring more than one method for users to identify themselves.
  • User error — whenever teams of users have access to information, there is a chance that one (or more) of these users will make an error at some point. A network of users increases the likelihood that an error will occur, but the appropriate training and role-based access controls from GovQA can help mitigate this chance.
  • Data loss — whether resulting from internal or external factors, data leaks and breaches happen all too often. GovQA’s disaster recovery and data loss prevention plans help ensure minimal downtime and help prevent data loss.

    As the volume of public records requests continues to increase, so too has the complexity of these requests. Comprehensive public records software can provide the highest level of security and data protection for government agencies handling public records requests. GovQA’s partnership with Microsoft Azure ensures that jurisdictions are operating with the most technically sophisticated hosting platform available to government entities today. 

    From architecture, encryption, and monitoring to hosting and compliance, data security software creates a strong foundation for storing and maintaining public records. Automating workflows and processes and applying internal safeguards provide government agencies with advanced data security. 

    Join the Conversation. What are your peers prioritizing as they look to 2022?

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    The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, live roundtables, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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