The Governor Who Thinks Examining HTML Is Criminal Hacking Is Now Working To Make Missouri's Public Records Laws Worse

from the thank-you-for-your-self-serving dept

Missouri Governor Mike Parson is perhaps best known these days for trying to convert a right-click menu option into criminal hacking with his relentless (and relentlessly uninformed) desire to turn the people who exposed a security flaw in the state’s Department of Education website into nefarious criminals.

Governor Parson seems to believe intimidation is better than accountability. Whatever can be used to deter normal people from exposing the shortcomings of better people (i.e., government employees) is fair game. For years, the state’s public records law have served this same purpose: increasing the distance between the state’s government and the lowly people who have the misfortune of living in this state.

In 2016, the state’s laws were used to justify something that looked a whole lot like extortion. Non-profit group Reclaim the Records asked the state for birth and death records dating back to 1910. To be sure, this was a big ask. But it wasn’t nearly as big as the state agency portrayed it. According to the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, compiling these records for release would involve more than 23,000 hours of labor at $42.50 an hour, resulting in a $1.5 million bill for services rendered.

This wasn’t acceptable to Reclaim the Records, which chose to hire a lawyer rather than issue a $1.5 million check to the Missouri government. Once the group lawyered up, the DHSS changed tack, informing Reclaim the Records it simply wouldn’t be releasing the data at all. It became apparent the agency was only interested in profiting from information it was required to collect and compile. Any third-party with enough money could buy this data from the DHSS. But public records requesters were being asked to pay full retail plus a sizable markup for information the agency was obligated to turn over to them.

A few years later, the transparency rating of the state and its “sunshine law” took another hit when the state’s attorney general arrived in court to argue the government had a First Amendment right to withhold records. The AG deliberately conflated rights afforded to residents (the protection that allows them to make complaints about government officials without fear of retaliation) with the state government’s nonexistent right to withhold records under the First Amendment.

With the state governor and his office undoubtedly facing hundreds of public records requests related to his inexplicable decision to treat responsible reporting of security flaws as criminal hacking, the governor’s office is backing (and directing) efforts that will make it more difficult for public records requesters to obtain documents and data from government agencies.

Amending Missouri’s open records law to permit government agencies to withhold more information from the public — and charge more for any records that are turned over — is among Gov. Mike Parson’s priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

The changes, which were outlined in a presentation to Parson’s cabinet that was obtained by The Independent through an open records request, include a proposal to allow government agencies to charge fees for the time attorneys spend reviewing records requested by the public.

Such a change would reverse a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling against Parson’s office that found attorney review time was not “research time” under the Sunshine Law and thus could not be charged.

Governor Parson wants to deter requests, which lends itself to the operation of a more-opaque government. Fees are a big part of the amendment. But it also increases the number of records state agencies can withhold. State Rep Bruce DeGroot is running interference for the governor, admitting in earlier statements that the governor directly approached him with suggestions on how to amend the law.

If the law passes, requests will become more expensive. They will also be less likely to be fulfilled.

DeGroot’s bill also redefines what is considered a meeting and makes it easier for agencies to destroy public records.

“It actually makes the Sunshine Law significantly more complex. It creates a lot more reasons that an attorney might find to treat records as closed,” said Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri, a libertarian nonprofit that promotes government transparency. And that, in turn, could increase the number of hours government attorneys spend reviewing records, driving up the cost.

The governor and his supporters want to make public records a pay-to-play game. Adding fee increases to release restrictions shifts a lot of power back to the state government, diminishing the power of residents to inform themselves about their government’s activities or to attempt to hold them accountable for misdeeds by using their own words and actions against them. The state government has no reason to do this other than the obvious one: to insulate it from the limited power of the governed. But the government gets to make the rules and, without the presence of enough legislators that still feel obliged to serve the public, the government will probably get its way.

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Comments on “The Governor Who Thinks Examining HTML Is Criminal Hacking Is Now Working To Make Missouri's Public Records Laws Worse”

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29 Comments
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That One Guy (profile) says:

Motives as pure as fresh snow I'm sure

‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide’ is a rubbish argument almost all of the time, but when it comes to the government attempting to make it harder for the citizenry to know what they are doing it’s kinda hard to read it any other way than ‘We have a bunch of stuff to hide that even we know we shouldn’t be saying/doing’, all the more so if it’s coming from one that recently got caught screwing up on a monumental scale and is still trying to pretend that it’s anyone’s fault but theirs.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Better idea: Just repeal the records request laws entirely and increase the income tax on everyone in the state.

What? They want to make money off of the public and hide everything. May as well go big or go home. If enough people in Missouri don’t give a crap like their government clearly perceives, then the government can pass this repeal and increased tax burden with ease.

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David says:

You paint Parson as an idiot.

Are you paid by his reelection campaign? Because if the technical guys paint some idiot as an idiot quoting bunches of technical gobbledegook sailing across the head of some layperson, that makes him immensively attractive for those laypersons holding a grudge against the arrogant technical guys they have to depend on for getting things accomplished.

If you rub people’s noses in a heap of crap, they are annoyed at the person doing the rubbing, not the person leaving the heap of crap.

The only remedy against further going down that political rabbithole is public education at a level and quality that stops people from being jealous of the venues opened up by better education because those venues would be open to them if they chose to invest the effort.

The U.S. is at a crossroads and travels into two different directions. Something will give eventually.

Good luck.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Not an idiot, corrupt, big difference

Ah spite-fueled stupidity, I’d call it absurd(and it is) but I suppose it has already shown itself to be disturbingly very real and effective.

‘I don’t care if they’re treating me like a gullible fool that will buy anything they tell me, I’m still voting for/supporting them because you’re being mean and telling me I’m a gullible fool for falling for their con and if that merely confirms what a raging moron I am so be it!’

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not an idiot, corrupt, big difference

… what? If a bunch of idiots want to walk off a cliff because someone told them that there’s gold at the bottom and that person also claims that another person said that the idiots would never have the ‘courage’ to take that step that’s on them.

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Bruce C. says:

Re: You paint Parson as an idiot.

He’s not an idiot because of not understanding technology. He’s an idiot because he ignores the people who do understand technology (including several paid by the state of MO) who have been saying all along that this isn’t hacking. The whole point of being an executive isn’t to know everything, it’s being able to make good decisions based on the advice of experts in each field where decisions are required.

David says:

Re: Re: You paint Parson as an idiot.

Apparently you don’t understand that in contrast to executives, politicians are not validated by facts but by opinions, and opinions determine who gets to be in power in a representative democracy.

You are trying to apply the rules of checkers to what is the game of believers. By now, Parson knows pretty well what he is selling. But he is still turning a profit.

Anonymous Coward says:

where the fuck do these brainless morons come from? how the hell do they manage to convince the public to vote them into office, only to then do whatever it is that some other moron, leading a biased company, that fucks up the publics rights? or even worse, are the members of the public such thick, mindless morons themselves not knowing when they’re being led like lambs to the slaughter? whichever is the reason, it’s always the public who gets screwed, the company Ies) that makes a fortune by getting what it/they want, and the prick in office who gets plenty in the way of back hand payments!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Democracy can still function when run by the ignorant and arrogant. The results of a Democracy and whether or not it is working / functional is a determination made by those who are part of it.

In this case, the governor and his people clearly believe that it’s working well enough. If the proposed changes to the state’s law and people’s reaction to them are any indication.

Just because we disagree with their proposals doesn’t mean that their Democracy is broken or that we need to fix it for them. If anything, that attitude just gives the implication that we don’t support Democracy.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Mental Drift Net Engaged… but delayed a bit.
The recent story about the Aussie PM and WeChat triggered a memory about something very Australian…
That time mangopdf hacked Tony Abbot (one time pm of Oz by using… inspect element).

GoogleFu "finding-former-australian-prime-minister-tony-abbotts-passport-number-on-instagram"

Because I still cannot figure out how to post a url without tripping moderation.

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