Understand Public Information Act to protect records

June 1, 2008

When companies interact with governmental bodies, issues related to the Public Information Act frequently arise. It is imperative for those companies to understand the Public Information Act as well as the internal procedures that may be developed to handle open records issues.

PUBLIC REQUEST

The Public Information Act allows members of the public to request access to information held by governmental entities. It is initiated when an individual makes an open records request to a governmental body. Under the act, all information held by governmental entities is subject to public disclosure unless the requested information falls within one of the act's specific exceptions to disclosure.

INTERNAL PROCESSES COMPANIES

When a company realizes that certain sensitive information will be in the government's possession, there are a number of steps it may take internally in order to provide as much protection as possible to proprietary and confidential documents.

One step is to carefully and clearly identify confidential documents contained in any submission to a governmental body. For example, a company may indicate in its cover letter to a governmental body that certain documents are confidential, and it also may choose to individually stamp or otherwise mark each of those documents as confidential. While this step will not automatically protect the confidentiality of the documents, it will provide additional support for the confidential nature of such information if an open records request is made for those documents. A company may also place highly confidential documents in a sealed envelope that is prominently marked "Proprietary and Confidential."

Another step that a company may take to protect sensitive information is to be certain that the governmental body requires the confidential information to be submitted in the first place.

Barry Senterfitt is a partner in the insurance industry practice of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in the firm's Austin, Texas, office.

Janet Farrer is an associate in the Austin office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.