Pennsylvania government agencies are not allowed to release someone's home address under the Right-to-Know Law without first making the person aware their address has been requested - thus giving them a chance to fight it, a state court ruled this week.
The majority of a divided Commonwealth Court said the Right-to-Know Law gives people the ability to claim that disclosure of information about them might put their personal security at risk, but does not spell out a meaningful way for that to happen.
The ruling favors the state's largest teachers union and goes against the Office of Open Records in a decision critics argue could make it more difficult to access to information far beyond the addresses of school employees involved in the case.
The ruling potentially impacts the skip-tracing industry, which plays a key role in the debt collection business.
The case originated after requests were made for the names and addresses of all school employees from school districts soon after a new version of Pennsylvania's open records law took effect in early 2009. That led to the teachers' union filing suit against the Office of Open Records to stop it.
Judge Dan Pellegrini in a dissenting opinion said the decision succumbs "to unfounded fears and a parade of speculative horribles," ignoring the public's control over public records and impeding public access to government records.
Pellegrini warned the ruling could apply to a long list of government records, including building permits, business licenses and public contracts.It was not immediately clear how widely the decision will apply. For example, would a county have to notify everyone with a dog license if someone requests the names and addresses of licensees?