Editorial: Accessing public records shouldn't require registration


Published Jan 12, 2013 at 04:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Should you have to register with the county to get access to public records? We don’t think so. But that’s what Deschutes County officials are proposing as they prepare for a new online system for property records.

They have proposed a two-tiered system where everyone gets access to part of the information, but those who want to see it all would have to register. An unregistered user, for example, couldn’t look up properties by the owners’ names.

The change would coincide with a revision of the computer system that would make all property information available through one Web page and over multiple platforms.

Officials haven’t made clear why the two-tiered approach is needed. Assessor Scot Langton said “there’s no problem we’re trying to address,” while County Clerk Nancy Blankenship said the move is designed to “balance issues of privacy,” from those concerned that too much information is publicly available.

But privacy is exactly what the proposal threatens. Anyone can now access these public records without revealing anything. In the new system, the county would collect registration information from anyone who wanted full access.

And what do they plan to do with that registration information? That’s not at all clear, despite Commissioner Alan Unger’s question to that effect during Wednesday’s discussion. Although some counties do charge for such access, Deschutes says it has no plans to do so. And Bob Haas, from the county’s information technology department, said the county doesn’t plan to track registered users, although the system does make it possible to do so.

We’re left to wonder what problem would be solved and what use would be made of the registrants’ information. If convincing answers exist, officials need to lay them out for the commissioners as well as citizens.

A Jan. 23 public hearing is planned, and commissioners have asked for community reaction. You can tell them what you think in advance by email to board@deschutes.org, or by snail mail to Deschutes Services Center, P.O. Box 6005, 1300 N.W. Wall St., Suite 206, Bend, OR 97701.

Without a much stronger justification than we’ve heard so far, our answer is no.