Right to know: In Pennsylvania, records access is a constant battle

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Score one for the public's right to know.

After considering the Post-Gazette's request for a statewide roster of municipal police officers, the state Office of Open Records said in a decision released Monday that there is no reason to keep secret this list of public employees.

The state police, which maintains the list, had argued against its release, saying it would give criminals a "one-stop reference" on the strength of individual police departments and it would identify undercover officers.

Protecting the identity of undercover detectives is a reasonable concern, and the records office said state police could redact the names of any officers currently involved in undercover investigations. That concern, however, is no reason to bar public access to the names of most of the state's 22,000 certified police officers and where they work.

This victory is part of the mixed bag of actions that constantly confront Pennsylvanians' right to know. On another front, some members of the General Assembly are thinking about introducing amendments to the state's open records law that might result in fees charged to people and organizations for access to public records.

That's an old trick to reduce the flow of information and keep people in the dark about how their government operates. Lawmakers plotting to curb access that way should consider how their plans will play before the voters.

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