May 13, 2010

Hmmmm

I'm not sure what I think about this. Hawaii signs what's being called the "anti-birther" law.

Once again, headlines are misleading.  It's not a law disallowing lawsuits or saying that "Dude, stfu, Obama's a natural born citizen" or the like.  It's a limited exception to Hawaii's freedom of information act that permits state agencies to decline repeated requests from the same person for the same information. It's openly acknowledged to have been passed because Hawaii's DOH is getting multiple requests from the same people on a monthly basis for the same information (ie the birth certificate).  This is to make those people go away. 

Here's why I'm torn.  I'm a big open records person.  If the government does it, it's my business.  The guys at Watts Up With That have done yeoman's work in fighting to get the data underlying climate change studies.  Climategate itself contains very juicy information about attempts to avoid FOIA requests.  Overall, FOIA is a fantastic thing.

Let's not kid ourselves, though, there are those who abuse it.  On a local level, there's a guy who is notorious for demanding all kinds of budget information and who refuses to accept what he's been given.  Now, with all the corruption around here, it's reasonable to assume some of the information is less than credible.  But I'm talking about the kook who thinks that the city is stashing cash in abandoned buildings.  (Though anymore that's not that far fetched)  This isn't a gadfly trying to make the city own up.  This is the aliens are telling me this level of nuts.  Under many open records laws, Nutty McNutbar's requests must be given the same response as my request for a copy of the permits for the building that a client is thinking about buying.

I do support some method of reaching a final determination as to a request and then prohibiting the same person from making the same request.  I think there should be a very high bar for this with the obligation on the governmental unit to prove that the information has been provided and that the information is complete.  I also would want severe sanctions if that turns out to be false later.  Not to mention that I think this should not be agency based but should be appealable to the court with the presumption that the person gets the information unless shown otherwise.  But Joe Blow shouldn't be allowed to gum up the works by spamming requests with no basis.

Note that my support for my own position isn't that strong.  I know from my own dealings that those fulfilling the requests are not precisely diligent.  I've had the lovely experience of being told that copies of the documents that I'm holding do not exist.  I know that will be abused by the governmental agencies to make people shut up.  But pretending it's not a problem isn't a rational response either.  There's a middle ground between everyone can ask for everything as many times as they want and shut up, the agency argues, when claiming all information has been disclosed.

Posted by: alexthechick at 11:58 AM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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