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Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Bill shielding UTA trip information heads to governor’s desk

The first bill of the 2013 legislative session to earn a "lights out" rating from the Utah Media Coalition is on its way to the governor’s desk.

SB12, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, would make trip data from the Utah Transit Authority private records under the Government Records Access and Management Act, commonly known as GRAMA. It puts the data in the same category as Social Security numbers and certain medical records.

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Van Tassell, a Republican from Vernal (which is not served by the UTA), said the legislation was necessary given the UTA’s move to the a "tap-on, tap-off" system for paying fares with credit cards, cell phones or other devices. The UTA is looking at "distance-based" fares where people will pay based on how far they ride.

Van Tassell said the legislation would prevent a "free-for-all" for the data, as well as discourage divorcing parties from using transit data to track a philandering partner.

The media coalition, which includes The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, KSL, Valley Journals and other Utah media outlets, gave the bill a lights-out rating, meaning that it restricts government transparency, leaving the public in the dark.

"It is entirely proper to protect customer credit card information," the coalition’s statement reads, "but this bill is overly broad, written to include trip information and other data that the public can use to analyze the transit agency’s efficiency without exposing transit customers."

Joel Campbell, associate professor of print journalism at Brigham Young University and an open-government advocate, questioned whether there was a "crying need" for restricting access to the data. He said Van Tassell’s divorce scenario was "the most off-the-wall reason to close a record I’ve ever heard."

Campbell said there are already provisions in GRAMA to protect truly private information, such as credit-card numbers. However, Van Tassell’s bill would make it impossible to access any information that could benefit the public.

The data can be used to show UTA efficiency, as well as which routes get the most riders at different times of the day.

To see how to contact the governor, click here.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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