As the U.S. has grappled with COVID-19, the government has resisted repeated requests to follow open records laws, which are essential to transparency. Current efforts to reduce access to death records and other public information amid the pandemic jeopardizes government accountability and undermines the public’s trust. Given that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income Americans, incarcerated populations and people of color, access to government-held data has serious implications for social justice. Importantly, those goals can be met without violating personal privacy. After analyzing state open records laws, court decisions and attorney general opinions, the author has developed a set of best practices for advocating access to death records to provide journalists and government watchdogs with important public health information that’s squarely in the public interest.
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