The Privacy That Keeps Us From Knowing Stuff

Lists of names and addresses of employees injured on the job, as reported to the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents, are not open to the public due to personal privacy concerns, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled last week in Georgiou v. Commissioner the Department of Industrial Accidents.

Workman’s compensation attorneys in Massachusetts had received the lists upon request to the agency on a monthly basis for at least 10 years prior to the agency stopping the practice in 2003.

Employers in Massachusetts are required by law to file with the DIA a “first report of injury,” which details “any injury alleged to have arisen out of and in the course of employment which incapacitates an employee from earning full wages.” All employers in the state are subject to the requirement except certain nonprofit organizations that are staffed exclusively by volunteers.

Until the DIA’s decision to stop providing the names and addresses in 2003, Attorney Peter Georgiou of Cambridge, Mass., had been paying the DIA $20 per month since the early 1990’s to receive the list in order to direct informational mailings — essentially advertisements — about the workers’ compensation process. “I only got names and addresses. I couldn’t tell where the person worked, what happened or the extent of their injury,” he said.


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An Entertaining History of Secrecy…

In this month’s Foreign Policy

In Washington State, Attempts to Curtail FOI “Fishing” Sound Awfully Fishy

Faced with tightening budgets, cities and other public agencies across Washington are begging the state Legislature to grant them relief from a seemingly unlikely culprit: the state Public Records Act.

Government lobbyists are making the rounds in Olympia with horror stories about civic gadflies who repeatedly file massive requests for documents — devouring time and money better spent on police, sidewalks or other services.

The Association of Washington Cities has made changing the records law a top legislative priority this year. The group is pushing bills that would allow governments to charge records requesters for personnel costs and reduce or eliminate penalties in public-records lawsuits.

The effort has alarmed public-records watchdogs, who say the governments are exaggerating a small problem — and proposing solutions that would encourage stonewalling of legitimate inquiries by citizens and the media…

One proposal before lawmakers would make it more expensive or slower to obtain large batches of records. HB 1300 would allow agencies to begin charging personnel costs for requests that take more than five hours of staff time in a month to process. (If a requester refuses to pay, the bill would allow the agency to limit time spent on the request to five hours a month.)



Welfare Queens Rank Amateurs Compared to Subsidy Kings

A wonderful use of public records here by The New York Press…

WALL STREET BANKERS and retired hedge fund billionaires have been talking about fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction, preparing the masses for austerity measures and cuts in social services—which we are told are regrettable, of course, but necessary nonetheless. Well, here is the perfect welfare program for the bailout queens to show off their fiscally conservative chops: Let’s see them cut federal farm subsidies, which funnel billions of dollars to the richest Americans, including notables like Ted Turner, David Letterman, Scottie Pippen, Paris Hilton’s grandpa, Charles Schwab, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and just about every single one of Sam Walton’s degenerate heirs.

Most people know next to nothing about this $20 billion-a-year welfare for the rich program, probably because the billionaires want it that way. Why get the masses worked up? Best to let them think the $200 billion they spent from 1995 through 2006 went to friendly farmers with cute farmhouses, rather than to Chevron or Kenneth Lay. Better to let urban entrepreneurs call themselves backyard farmers and toil away for the locavore movement, than to realize that their rich neighbors are reaping actual “farm” subsidies.


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911 Addresses Ruled Public Records in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

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A Pennsylvania appeals court held Wednesday that the destination addresses — or nearby cross streets — linked with 911 time response reports must be released under state public records laws. The ruling inYork County v. Pennsylvania Office of Open Records overturns a lower court decision that held that the state Office of Open Records was wrong to order the addresses released.

Ted Czech, a reporter for the York Daily Record, requested the time response reports in 2009. The reports list: the time a 911 call is received; the time the dispatcher contacts the police or fire department; and the time authorities arrive. The reports also list the destination addresses for the call. The logs are intended to measure response times to 911 calls. York County denied Czech’s request for the addresses in the response logs.

York County argued that the addresses were not part of the state legislature’s intent when it made the time response records specifically subject to the state’s Right-to-Know Law in a 2008 amendment. The county also said the amendment lacked a clear definition for “time response log.”

The court examined the legislative history of the amendment and found that there was nothing to suggest that addresses were exempt, despite the lack of a definition of a “time response log” and a floor statement from a member of the legislature who expressed the desire for addresses to be exempt. The amendment that was passed did not exempt the addresses from the time response logs and “what the General Assembly did is more important than what any one member said,” the court held.


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A new report shows sheriff’s departments in Missouri are not always following the law when it comes to open records, according to a new study by the Missouri Sunshine Coalition.

The Missouri Press Association sent Sunshine-Law requests to all 114 sheriffs in the Show-Me State.

And while most complied with the law, several did not.

The study shows about a dozen sheriff’s offices — including those in Barry and Dent counties — never responded to the Sunshine request. The law requires a response within three working days.

“The results of this project point to a real imperative to ramp up the education of public officials about the Sunshine Law,” said Jim Robertson, president of the Missouri Sunshine Coalition. “The law demands responsiveness by government officials to requests for information from the public and clearly mandates access to the records we requested. We found that too many jurisdictions fail to understand or follow the law.”


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Carter Center Highlights Transparency Work in Liberia

Liberia Location

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Want a reminder of the importance of access to information?

Watch this cool video from the Carte Center on the difference being made in Liberia…

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In Florida, They Show Sunshine Outlaws the Door…

A Wauchula city commissioner has been removed from office for Sunshine Law violations and four other elected leaders of the small southwest Florida town have resigned.

Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Friday removing Daniel Graham from office because he attended meetings that were closed to the public. A city official told The Ledger Monday that four of the six other commissioners submitted resignation letters.

The five commissioners were criminally charged last year after an investigation of a citizen complaint. Investigators said they discussed city issues in private meetings in September 2009 and March 2010.

Read more:


New Georgia AG Wants Sunshine Revamp

From the Augusta Chronicle

Attorney General Sam Olens announced his is taking a more proactive approach than his predecessors in championing a broad legislative agenda, including a rewrite of the state’s Sunshine Law and seeking new powers to prosecute human trafficking and mortgage fraud…

The rewrite of the Sunshine Law, also known as the Open Meetings/Open Records Act, hasn’t been introduced. In it, he intends to update it with recent court decisions and clarify the language.

“The current law is really incomprehensible,” he said. “The press can understand it because they work with it every day, but it needs to be clear for John Q. Citizen.”

One change in the law he intends is boosting to $1,000 the fine for government officials who improperly meet secretly or refuse to turn over records covered under the law.


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FOI Request Yield Insight Into Tiger Attack

The female Siberian tiger that fatally mauled a man at the San Francisco zoo on Christmas Day 2007, was likely provoked, according to a federal investigator.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press, state that “It appears the tiger was able to jump from the bottom of the dry moat to the top of the wall, and gain enough purchase over the top to pull herself out over the moat wall,” and “With my knowledge of tiger behaviour I cannot imagine a tiger trying to jump out of its enclosure unless it was provoked,” wrote Laurie Gage, a tiger expert who investigated the scene for the US Dept. of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

While the statement was written in a draft on Dec. 27, 2007, it was removed from the final version of the report because it was “irrelevant from an Animal Welfare Act enforcement standpoint,” said David Sacks, a spokesman for APHIS.

The documents were provided to The AP more than three years after a Freedom of Information Act request and they offer the first glimpse into the findings of the APHIS investigation and details from the scene written by some of the officers who killed Tatiana.

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