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More News about access to local government information. VA and CA.

The FOI Advocate blog is doing an excellent job of picking up more stories about local access to government information.

Good news from Virginia. After a recent study that showed how hard it can be to get public information in Virginia (See Survey of records access in Virginia), there is some new good news. One Virginia city “plans to create an office that will handle requests for documents that are available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Bad news from California. “Police agencies in the capital region and statewide routinely delay, dismiss or ignore ordinary citizens’ requests for reports on basic public crime, arrest and other topics, according to a landmark audit of California law enforcement agency practices…. The average grade earned was an F plus.”

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  1. dcornwall says:

    According to this article in the Contra Costa Times, it’s not just the Capital region where people have a hard time accessing law enforcement documents. In fact, sometimes they’re intimidated:

    Even though I have been a newspaper reporter for more than two decades and have received information at countless police stations in numerous states, I stood there, growing anxious, even a bit nervous.

    The woman who demanded my ID and then walked away with it didn’t know I was a journalist. This is how they treat people.

    All across California, journalists working with Calaware, a nonprofit group that advocates for government openness, had similar experiences. They were laughed at. Mocked. Intimidated.

    The article also mentioned Californians Aware, the group that sponsored this statewide audit of accessibility of law enforcement records.

    In addition to stories about public access, Californians Aware (Calaware) also has a set of stories headed “Thanks to public records ..”

    Thanks to Calaware for fighting the good fight in California.

    “And besides all that, what we need is a decentralized, distributed system of depositing electronic files to local libraries willing to host them.” — Daniel Cornwall, tipping his hat to Cato the Elder for the original quote.

  2. jrjacobs says:

    Thanks for the tip on CalAware Daniel! I’ll add them to FGI’s organizations page. As I was looking through their site, I came upon an interesting article entitled, “The devil in the metadata.” Read on:

    Although the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force has already hashed over the minutiae of this issue and ruled that metadata can and should be released, the mystery enshrouding what it is, and the lack of any specific policy or known precedent in other cities or states with public records laws has pushed the discussion upstream to where a formal legislation has become a possibility.

    Freedom of information purists are saying all the parts and pieces of a document are part of the public domain, while the City Attorney’s Office is claiming another layer of protection may be required.

    Isn’t that interesting. I’d say that definitely metadata is part of a document and should be included in any public records. It reminds me of the story a year or so ago where Bruce McPherson, the CA secretary of state, got in some hot water because a Word document that he supposedly wrote about testing procedures for Diebold electronic voting machines was actually written by Diebold’s own Steve Pelletier. Without access to the metadata — specifically the “properties” feature on Word document in question — this highly inappropriate, if not illegal issue of the regulated writing the regulations would never have seen the light of day.

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