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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  1. 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

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