FOI DAILY DOSE: Drunken driving in Penn. and fingerprint data

FOIA’s public safety exemption is under scrutiny in Pennsylvania, where the state’s Commonwealth Court ordered the Office of Open Records on Tuesday to reexamine its choice to give a Harrisburg lawyer access to police training materials about drunken driving.

The open records office must conduct a hearing to decide whether disclosing police course materials from Harrisburg Area Community College could endanger public safety.

The college’s open records officer, Patrick Early, granted lawyer Justin McShane access to DUI-related records in July 2009. They excluded some records but included an affidavit explaining the reasoning for withholding the information.

However, the open records office said the explanation didn’t show how the training information could risk public safety or undermine police efforts to combat drunken driving.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security faces opposition as plaintiffs in a lawsuit accuse DHS of trying to hide information about an immigrant fingerprinting program by failing to disclose email trails despite court orders to do so.

The program, known as Secure Communities, allows officials to compare department database information to the digital fingerprints of those booked by local law enforcement agencies.

The most dangerous individuals, such as those convicted of murder, can then be deported.

Critics argue that it targets innocent people who have minor or dismissed charges as well as hardened criminals. Due to a FOIA request, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released many electronic files for statistics, emails and other information.

The agency is attempting to block a court ruling that ICE must provide the file formatting information, recipient trail and labeling data. But the plaintiffs – including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network – said the metadata is key information that should not be stripped from the files.

— Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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