A Move Towards Transparency

States make moves to increase transparency, broadening the public’s access to previously shielded records related to Covid-19, election results, the Dakota Pipeline and more.

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Judge orders Biden admin to release info on Pfizer COVID vaccine within months, not 75 years

A federal judge in Texas has ordered President Joe Biden’s administration to publicly release hundreds of thousands of pages of information relating to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by March 1, according to a Thursday [Jan. 6] ruling.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman sided in favor of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking documents related to the Pfizer vaccine, overruling the FDA’s argument it needed 75 years to answer the FOIA requests for the documents. Pittman’s order argued that no good can come from the government withholding facts from the public, quoting American leaders like James Madison and John McCain.

The judge found that not only was the FDA capable of producing the documents in a timely manner, it was also of “paramount importance” that they do so. He referenced a sentiment from McCain that “excessive administrative secrecy . . . feeds conspiracy theories and reduces the public’s confidence in the government.”

Read More | Daily Caller

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Maryland lawmakers craft measures to rein in Governor Hogan's use of text-destroying app

Maryland’s General Assembly will consider legislation this session intended to prohibit Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. — and future governors — from using texting apps that automatically destroy their messages.

Two lawmakers — Del. Vaughn Stewart and Sen. Clarence Lam — said they were moved to take action after the Washington Post reported that Hogan makes regular use of Wickr, a messaging app that can be set to delete users’ communications automatically.

According to the paper, messages that Hogan and his top staff exchange vanish 24 hours after they are sent. Lawmakers and good-government advocates said the governor’s use of Wickr raises questions about whether use of the app conflicts with Maryland public records requirements.

According to the Maryland State Archives, “the law defines public records very broadly,” and that “all public officials (are) responsible for making sure that records no longer needed are either offered to the Archives or are destroyed according to procedures that are spelled out in Maryland’s regulations.”

Both lawmakers said Maryland law needs to make it clear that the governor’s office is a unit of the government.

“By changing the definition of ‘unit of government,’ they would have to create a record retention plan that’s been approved by the state archivist,” Stewart said.

Read More | Maryland Matter


North Dakota judge rules thousands of disputed Dakota Access Pipeline documents are public records

A [North Dakota] state judge has ruled that thousands of documents related to security during the construction in North Dakota of the heavily protested Dakota Access Pipeline are public and subject to the state’s open records law.

The [Dec. 31] ruling by South Central District Judge Cynthia Feland is a victory for The Intercept news organization, which sued in November 2020 to get access to the documents for investigative journalism on the topics of “environmental justice, the treatment of Indigenous peoples and workers, and government efforts to suppress First Amendment-protected activities.”

North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney Jack McDonald said the ruling also is “a good decision for government transparency” and has wider ramifications.

“It establishes clearly that records in possession of a public entity are public records — absent any specific exemptions — even if the person submitting those records didn’t intend them to be,” he said. “It also establishes that agreements between companies about nondisclosure are only good between those companies, and does not affect those records once in the public domain.”

Read More | The Bismarck Tribune


Arizona judge fines Cyber Ninjas $50,000 a day until it turns over election review records

An Arizona judge has fined Cyber Ninjas, a firm hired by the state Senate to conduct a review of Maricopa County’s election results, $50,000 a day until it turns over records from the review to The Arizona Republic, the outlet reported.

On Aug. 24, 2021, Maricopa Superior Court Judge John Hannah ordered the firm to turn over public records including emails and text messages, among others, to the Republic. In his Thursday [Jan. 6] ruling, Hannah found Cyber Ninjas in contempt of that order.

The Republic in June 2021 sued Cyber Ninjas and the state Senate for records and asked for $1,000 a day in sanctions against the company, according to the outlet.

Hannah said that Cyber Ninjas’s noncompliance was deserving of sanctions 50 times higher than the $50,000 a day he was imposing, the Republic reported.

Read More | The Hill


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The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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