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, 1 Apr 2019 @ 11:18am

    Arizona - commercial use forbidden

    Arizona regulates the commercial use of public records

    https://www.azleg.gov/arsDetail/?title=39

    39-121.03
    Request for copies, printouts or photographs; statement of purpose; commercial purpose as abuse of public record; determination by governor; civil penalty; definition
    ..
    A. When a person requests copies, printouts or photographs of public records for a commercial purpose, the person shall provide a statement setting forth the commercial purpose for which the copies, printouts or photographs will be used. Upon being furnished the statement the custodian of such records may furnish reproductions, the charge for which shall include the following:

    1. A portion of the cost to the public body for obtaining the original or copies of the documents, printouts or photographs.

    2. A reasonable fee for the cost of time, materials, equipment and personnel in producing such reproduction.

    3. The value of the reproduction on the commercial market as best determined by the public body.

    B. If the custodian of a public record determines that the commercial purpose stated in the statement is a misuse of public records or is an abuse of the right to receive public records, the custodian may apply to the governor requesting that the governor by executive order prohibit the furnishing of copies, printouts or photographs for such commercial purpose. The governor, upon application from a custodian of public records, shall determine whether the commercial purpose is a misuse or an abuse of the public record. If the governor determines that the public record shall not be provided for such commercial purpose the governor shall issue an executive order prohibiting the providing of such public records for such commercial purpose. If no order is issued within thirty days of the date of application, the custodian of public records shall provide such copies, printouts or photographs upon being paid the fee determined pursuant to subsection A.

    C. A person who obtains a public record for a commercial purpose without indicating the commercial purpose or who obtains a public record for a noncommercial purpose and uses or knowingly allows the use of such public record for a commercial purpose or who obtains a public record for a commercial purpose and uses or knowingly allows the use of such public record for a different commercial purpose or who obtains a public record from anyone other than the custodian of such records and uses it for a commercial purpose shall in addition to other penalties be liable to the state or the political subdivision from which the public record was obtained for damages in the amount of three times the amount which would have been charged for the public record had the commercial purpose been stated plus costs and reasonable attorney fees or shall be liable to the state or the political subdivision for the amount of three times the actual damages if it can be shown that the public record would not have been provided had the commercial purpose of actual use been stated at the time of obtaining the records.

    D. For the purposes of this section, "commercial purpose" means the use of a public record for the purpose of sale or resale or for the purpose of producing a document containing all or part of the copy, printout or photograph for sale or the obtaining of names and addresses from public records for the purpose of solicitation or the sale of names and addresses to another for the purpose of solicitation or for any purpose in which the purchaser can reasonably anticipate the receipt of monetary gain from the direct or indirect use of the public record. Commercial purpose does not mean the use of a public record as evidence or as research for evidence in an action in any judicial or quasi-judicial body.


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