Oregon Lawmaker Wants Public Records Requesters To Tell Gov't Agencies What They Plan To Do With Released Documents

from the we'll-decide-what's-acceptable-use dept

As if government agencies needed any new ways to thwart accountability and transparency. Oregon legislators are introducing a host of alterations to the state's public records law, but one of those looks like nothing more than an easily-abusable tool to be wielded against public records requesters. Jessie Gomez of MuckRock has more details:

Senate Bill 609, sponsored by Senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) at the request of former Representative Deborah Boone, would require requesters to disclose the intended use for records being requested with any state agency. Boone believes the bill would help eliminate requests that [seek] personal information.

“There are so many requests for emails and texts, sometimes tens of thousands, that require hours of someone’s time to research and at present the requestor does not have to disclose what they intend to do with the information,” said Boone via email to MuckRock.

What Boone appears to be concerned about is public records requesters obtaining documents containing personal info and using this info to… well, it's kind of left up to the imagination Here's another quote from Boone that doesn't do much to clear up the bill's purpose.

It seems reasonable to ask that the requestor to disclose what they intend to do with the information, some of which can be of a personal nature.

It actually isn't reasonable to ask this question. There may be an extremely tiny subset of records requesters who seek to extract personal info from public records to engage in harassment or some other form of criminal activity. But it seems someone doing this wouldn't be honest about their intentions even if required to inform a government agency about their plans for the requested documents.

What it will do is allow agencies to unilaterally refuse to release documents to requesters who give them reasons they don't like. The bill doesn't even hint at what would be considered unacceptable use for public records, which means agencies are free to explore the outer limits of the undefined term, leaving requesters with little recourse but lengthy appeals and expensive litigation.

Even better (from the perspective of public servants who dislike serving the public), agencies will be able to compile secret blacklists from which to serve up request rejections, claiming the requester's stated reason for seeking documents is not one of the ones they find acceptable.

Rep. Boone is leaving her office so this is a parting gift for the government she's leaving behind. Don't think it will survive a Constitutional challenge if it ever becomes law, but for now, it's a turd floating in legislative stream.

The stream's not completely ruined, though. There's some good news for records requesters as well.

Other bills include reducing request fees by 50 percent for news media, prohibiting the use of personal email for official business, and awarding attorney fees when agencies fail to respond to record requests.

The best thing the legislature could do is send Boone's bill to her home address postage-due.

Filed Under: betsy johnson, deborah boone, foia, intended use, journalism, oregon, public records, research


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 3:42am

    "It seems reasonable to ask that the requestor to disclose what they intend to do with the information, some of which can be of a personal nature."

    I invite you to ask the officer why he wants your information before providing it to him, lemme know how that works out for you.

    Wacky idea... don't use your job account for personal matters & don;t use your personal account for job matters... ohhh look your imaginary problem just went away.

    I think people need to file mass requests Former Rep. Boone's details... she obviously is trying to hide something hugely damning... why else would she throw up a bill that will cost the tax payers so much more to fight in court when its clear it won't survive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 3:43am

    Oh look, another Vaguely-worded “we must do something” law. Must be a Monday.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 3:59am

      Re:

      …wait I’m receiving word that today is TUesday.

      See, this is what happens when time becomes wibbly-wobbly and a day feels like a week.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        ryuugami, 22 Jan 2019 @ 5:22am

        Re: Re:

        Must be a Monday.

        …wait I’m receiving word that today is TUesday.

        That's why you should instead say "must be a day that ends with 'y'". Helps cut down on embarrassing mistakes :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 4:03am

    I plan on going down to the public park today and walking my dog. Do I need to file paperwork stating my intended reason? And what happens if she finds a stick she likes and we end up playing fetch instead? Will I be cited for making false statements?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 4:25am

    This seems more like a law blog than a tech blog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 22 Jan 2019 @ 4:46am

    Upholding the constitution and exercising the freedom

    that many people spilled their blood for. How's that for a reason?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 5:07am

    'Airing your dirty laundry, what else?'

    'Double-checking to make sure that you're still working for the public, and working in it's best interests' would be the first explanation that comes to mind.

    'None of your damn business so long as the request is legal' would be a close second.

    Anyone who actually had nefarious intent would almost certainly have much easier ways to get that sort of data, and even if they had to go through that process there's this little thing that anyone in politics should be well aware of called 'lying', such that the only people this proposed law is likely to trip up are honest people looking for records that might be a pain, embarrassing, and/or incriminating.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 5:38am

    I really don't see the problem here.

    "OREGON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT"
    Please describe the information you are requesting as detailed as possible: I need the email communications of Senator Betsy Johnson between the dates of 1/1/2019 and current.

    What do you intend to do with the information: Read it.


    Where's the problem?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 7:44am

    How does it work? The Hillary Case.

    How is this law supposed to work?
    Consider the case of the Hillary Clinton Tapes

    Not to mention collecting a whole new set of public documents on requesters.

    And not to mention the problem of the chain of custody of the documents.

    And not to mention indemnification agreements on when obtaining the documents.

    And not to mention the problem of determining culpability.

    If 100 people obtained the same document directly from the gov., and each sold 100 copies on ebay with no user agreement, and only one third-party posted it on the internet, how much does it cost to find out whose fault it is that it was published?

    -------------------------------------

    http://www.thearkansasproject.com/the-archetype-of-ce nsorship-u-of-a-revokes-access-to-public-clinton-archives/

    ‘The Archetype of Censorship:’ U of A Revokes Access to Public Clinton Archives
    June 19, 2014 Nic Horton and Caleb Taylor
    ----------------------------------------------------

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/06/wash ington-free-beacon-suspended-from-clinton-archives-190750.html

    Washington Free Beacon suspended from Clinton archives
    By HADAS GOLD
    06/19/2014
    ----------------------------------------------------

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/23049641 7/University-of-Arkansas-letter-to-WFB

    June 19, 2014
     BY ELECTRONIC MAIL
    Ms. Carolyn Henderson Allen Dean of Libraries University of Arkansas 365 N. McIllroy Avenue Fayetteville, AR 72701-4002 Re:
    Washington Free Beacon

    Dear Dean Henderson Allen:
    Covington & Burling represents the Washington Free Beacon, and I write in response to your June 17, 2014 letter, in which you demand that my client remove audio recordings from its website and state that you are suspending the right of Free Beacon’s journalists to conduct research in your public library.
    --------------------------------------------------------

    http://freebeacon.com/politics/clint on-donor-bans-free-beacon-from-university-of-arkansas-archives/

    June 19, 2014

    A Hillary Clinton donor who serves as dean of the University of Arkansas libraries has banned the Washington Free Beacon from the school’s special collections archives, after the news outlet published revealing stories about Hillary Clinton based on documents available at the university library...
    ----------------------------------------------------

    http://libinfo.uark.edu/dean/message.a sp

    Message regarding Special Collections June 20, 2014
    Statement from University Libraries:
    There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation regarding a claim that The Washington Free Beacon was "banned" from Special Collections. The issue is that this media outlet failed to comply with standard library policies followed across the nation...
    ---------------------------------------------------

    http://libraries.uark.edu/specialcollect ions/research/default.asp#policies

    Note: Publication of any material found in the manuscript collections of the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections is permitted only after a completed "Permission to Publish Request" is approved...
    -----------------------------------------------------

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-consp iracy/wp/2014/06/20/university-of-arkansas-library-suspends-washington-free-beacons-research-privile ges/

    University of Arkansas library suspends Washington Free Beacon’s research privileges

    By Jonathan H. Adler By Jonathan H. Adler
    The Volokh Conspiracy June 20, 2014
    -----------------------------------------------------

    http://www.businessinsider.com/conservative -site-fight-hillary-clinton-tapes-2014-6

    Documents Raise Questions About Conservative Site's Fight Over Hillary Clinton

    Hunter Walker Jun. 21, 2014
    "We will not be denied access to public documents at a public institution and if they attempt to enforce this ban we will act to defend our first amendment rights."
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201 4/06/23/cnn-followed-clinton-document-access-rules-free/199843

    CNN Followed Clinton Document Access Rules Free Beacon Ignored

    Blog ››› June 23, 2014 4:05 PM EDT ››› JOE STRUPP

    "The courts have held that libraries are entitled to apply reasonable rules to accessing their collections or using facilities as long as they are applied equally to every user and are unrelated to the content," Stone said. "We see this frequently, especially for special collections and rare books."
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    http://www.thearkansasproject.com/new-st atement-from-u-of-a-reveals-schools-intellectual-property-claims-on-clinton-recordings-are-wholly-im aginary/

    June 24, 2014 -
    New Developments Reveal That U of A’s “Intellectual Property Rights” To Clinton Recordings Are Wholly Imaginary
    --------------------------------------------------

    http://www.thearkansasproject.com/dont-ba n-books-just-chase-away-researchers-the-latest-on-the-real-hot-mess-at-the-university-of-arkansas/

    Do n’t Ban Books, Just Chase Away Researchers: The Latest on the “Real Hot Mess” at the University of Arkansas
    June 28, 2014 Caleb Taylor
    ---------------------------------------------------------

    http://www.thearkansasproject.com/ua-librar y-failed-talking-points-an-autopsy/

    UA Library Failed Talking Points: An Autopsy July 8, 2014 Caleb Taylor
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/lette rs/2014/07/11/university-arkansas-doesn-hide-library-records/2Np8fspbrAaUzvFq9IbYOL/story.html

    July 12, 2012
    Requesting permission to publish is important to record keeping, triggering a conversation between the library and a researcher about potential copyright infringement, and allows a library to track use of its material.
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    http://freebeacon.com/politics/library-c oordinated-with-clinton-staff-prior-to-free-beacon-ban-internal-emails-show/

    July 15, 2014

    Library Coordinated with Clinton Staff Prior to Free Beacon Ban, Internal Emails Show
    FOIA: library moved to suppress ‘Hillary Tapes’ without knowing who owned copyright
    ---------------------------------------------------------

    http://blog.librarylaw.com/library law/2014/07/arkansas-and-archival-permission-practices.html

    July 24, 2014 What the University of Arkansas controversy can teach us about archival permission practices (By Peter Hirtle)
    -----------------------------------------------------------

    http://www.thearkansasproject.com/ archivist-expert-rips-ua-library-permission-to-publish-policy/

    July 28, 2014 - Archivist expert rips UA Library permission-to-publish policy
    ------------------------------------------------------------

    http://freebeacon.com/issues/uncon ditional-surrender/

    Aug. 4, 2014
    Unconditional Surrender
    University of Arkansas library backs down on Free Beacon ban

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 9:59am

    Journalist Joe: I seek to investigate a state senator for suspicion of corruption.

    REQUEST DENIED!

    Cronies of the suspected senator: Acquire records of Journalist Joe without any formalities.
    (They find that Journalist Joe kissed a female classmate when in 3rd grade)
    Reported to the public: Journalist Joe sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl.

    Journalist Joe career is over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ItsEconomics, 22 Jan 2019 @ 10:43am

    DontReadIntoSomethingThatsNot

    I don't see this as nefarious just economics...

    Sounds like this boils down to funding and trying to reduce the amount of requests which in turns lowers the amount spent for government employees replying to requests.

    This is similar to stories popping up today about smaller municipalities DROPPING body camera use based on costs of product, storage and archive retrieval.

    Funding should in my view come from the federal government in a tit for tat. State/Local need funding, Fed needs statistical data from State/Local.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AricTheRed, 22 Jan 2019 @ 10:57am

    A request for documents pertaining to...

    A request for documents pertaining to (insert subject here), in order to produce copious amounts of <REDATCED> text in order to produce a darker toilet tissue, to conceal how dirty the entire cleanup process of all this shit is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 12:23pm

    Its simple

    READ THEM....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 22 Jan 2019 @ 1:20pm

    Turn About is Fair Play

    Oregon Lawmaker Wants Public Records Requesters To Tell Gov't Agencies What They Plan To Do With Released Documents

    Mayhap the state can tell taxpayers what Plan for the money is in place before pilfering our earnings under the guise of progressive taxation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nakedlawyer (profile), 22 Jan 2019 @ 10:16pm

    Yes this is dumb, but "intended uses" aren't always irrelevant.

    This is certainly dumb legislation, as the post and comments make abundantly clear.

    But speaking from personal experience, FOIA harassment of public employees is actually real, and in most states there's no real way to deal with it. Putting aside "intended uses" like stalking and retaliation, these requests are a huge waste of public resources (i.e. your taxes) and they just lead to delays in FOIA responses for everyone else.

    In some jurisdictions, "vexatious" requests can result in sanctions or a court can enjoin further abusive requests. FOIA agencies everywhere take "intended uses" into account all the time anyway, intentionally or not, so it's not the dumbest thing ever for a FOIA law to actually acknowledge that. This proposal is just a dumb way of doing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2019 @ 10:56pm

      Re: Yes this is dumb, but "intended uses" aren't always irreleva

      wouldn't be an issue if they just published the work of government from the get-go, now would it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nakedlawyer (profile), 24 Jan 2019 @ 12:02am

    In general I agree with you, the answer to most FOIA problems is simply to publish the government records.

    But FOIA has many unintended consequences that aren't solved so easily. A pretty significant FOIA problem that often goes unnoticed is how it can affect everyday public employees and become a real threat to their personal privacy. All it takes is someone with a minor personal grudge against someone else who happens to be a public employee, and FOIA can go from sunlight being the best disinfectant to something more like state-subsidized doxxing. The author of this article doesn't have much faith that this is a real problem, but the proposal here would actually generate some data that might help resolve this unknown.

    In this context, perhaps we might also want to consider whether FOIA might be improved by acknowledging that bad faith requests actually exist, however rare or abundant they may be, instead of denigrating a legislator who's merely suggesting that government should ask people about how they might use the data that FOIA gives them.

    The proposal is entirely toothless, and that's why I called it dumb. But the gist of this article and many of comments is that just by asking a question about intent, we would be undermining some integral part of FOIA. But intent has always been incredibly relevant to FOIA, it's just that the legal framework pretends that purpose is irrelevant while simultaneously authorizing all sorts of exemptions for sensitive information precisely because people would use it nefarious ways. I shouldn't have been so quick to call the proposal dumb, because the general reaction shows just how easy it is to marshal some sophistry about "transparency and accountability" instead of really considering the implications of a tiny change to the status quo.

    The premise that it's "unreasonable" to ask questions about how FOIA is actually used also just consigns us to all of the problems that the existing process has caused. FOIA itself is what "thwarts transparency and accountability" and if we refuse to consider any proposal that challenges the legal fiction that why and how FOIA is used isn't important, well... I suppose we'll be left with more comments encouraging people to FOIA-doxx this legislator because they don't like her proposed legislation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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