Posts Tagged ‘FOIA’


Baltimore Police Email Search Fee Hinders Public Access and Decreases Accountability

Baltimore Police Department

The Baltimore Police Department is charging $50 if a member of the public requests emails from the department, making public access to information and holding government officials more difficult.

MuckRock posted this earlier this week.

According to the policy, outlined in a response to MuckRock, the department says it will charge the $50 email search fee before it will begin to process the request. If the fee is paid, the search begins, a review cost is determined and if the cost and terms are “agreed upon” the $50 fee is deducted from the final cost. Click here or look below to read more about the policy.

While it is a nice gesture for them to deduct the search fee from the total cost, charging just to begin a search threatens the public’s right to information. Emails from public agencies and public employees should be released to the public without prohibitive fees. This information belongs to the public. Members of the public should not have to pay a search fee for it. Charging before the request is even processed is even more prohibitive and threatening to the public’s right to know.

An email to the Baltimore Police Department was not returned. It is also unclear as to when or why this policy was implemented. MuckRock estimates it was sometime in the last two months.

Whatever the reason, the policy is prohibitive and makes requesting emails more difficult for the public. Since the public has a right to this information, there should not be extra steps to jump over or extra fees to be paid in order to obtain it.

Fighting for access to information is something the Society of Professional Journalists takes seriously. If you have been hindered by Baltimore PD’s policy, please let me know: @LWalsh or lwalsh@spj.org

More from the policy:

If you are requesting e-mails correspondence the following is the procedure to request BPD e-mail.

Request for BPD emails are handled by the Information and Technology Section (I T). BPD emails are handled separately from the City of Baltimore emails. BPD emails have a limited retrieval time frame. The cost of in-house retrieval is based on the number of email that must be reviewed before being disclosed. Confidential opinions, deliberations, advice or recommendations from one governmental employee or official to another for the purpose of assisting the latter official in the decision-making function may be withheld. In addition, part of an interagency, or intra-agency letter or memorandum that would not be available by law to a private party in litigation can be withheld.

The BPD can run a word, name or phase through the email retention system. The BPD can run individual email addresses or the entire BPD email system. Once the system identifies the emails with the word, name or phase each email will have to be review to determine what can be disclosed and their relevancy.

The average staff time of review e-mails for release is approximately 150-200 pages reviewed per hour (e-mails and attachments). Time differs depending on the size or complexity of the e-mails. Once all disclosable emails are identified the BPD will advise of the actual cost of producing the e-mails. There is a minimum charge of $50.00 to start the search and downloading of e-mails. After the number of emails is determined you will be provided with the review cost. If the costs and terms are agreed upon emails will be reviewed. The $50.00 search fee will be deducted from the final cost.

Requesting Public Information Should Not Result in Felony Charges

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Blue Ridge, Georgia was arrested June 24 and charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request.

No journalist or member of the public should ever have to put up with what Thomason has when exercising his or her right to public information.

On the day of his arrest Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.

“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.

After his release on a $10,000 bond, Thomason said he faced unusual bond restrictions and was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.

When the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists first heard of Thomason’s arrest, they began sharing their outrage with the public.  The chapter also filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission against the judge, Brenda Weaver, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, who had Thomason and his attorney arrested.

At it’s annual convention last month in New Orleans, SPJ’s members commended Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.

Click here or watch below (jump to the 11 minute, 47 second mark of the video) to hear Thomason’s comments to SPJ members and journalists at the convention.

The SPJ membership also called for Judge Weaver to resign and thanked the SPJ Georgia chapter members for their hard work and due diligence bringing this issue into the public conversation.

What Thomason did, standing up for his right to public information, is something, I hope, no other individual, journalist or news organization has to experience. But, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, I want to know.

SPJ was founded to fight for these very issues. Whether that is your right to government access or recording video on a public sidewalk. We are here for you. Or maybe you find yourself being forced to tell a story or write something in a way that you feel is journalistically unethical. Please tell us, so we can help.

So, please contact me and let us know what we can do to help. We are here to help protect journalism and the public’s right to know.

Lynn Walsh is the current National President for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

Highlights thru Dec. 4, 2014

Hello, all. It has only been a few weeks since I posted the last update, but we’ve accomplished so much that it is almost baffling. I am so proud of SPJ staff and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the cause. Here are some of the projects we’ve been involved in over the last few weeks (you might want to pull up a chair – there is a lot of good stuff here!):

  • Community elections for SPJ Digital & Freelance were launched. Details here.
  • SPJ Georgia attended two separate hearings of Atlanta journalists who were arrested last week during the Ferguson protest. Charges have been dropped in both cases. Reps from SPJ Georgia plan to attend a roundtable discussion tomorrow with Atlanta PD. Thanks to SPJ Georgia for staying on top of this issue and keeping us informed!
  • We sent a letter to the EPA protesting the limitations put on scientists, preventing them from speaking directly with the media:
  • Alex Veeneman was named our first community coordinator to help me manage the workload. Thank you, Alex, for stepping up! Alex is the current leader of SPJ Digital, so he knows first hand the work involved in setting up a community and keeping it going.
  • The Ethics and International Committees are working together to get the Code of Ethics translated into other languages.
  • I had a call with national board members Patti Newberry, Sue Kopen Katcef, Brett Hall and Jordan Gass Poore last week to discuss student internships and the formation of a student-based community. Brett and Jordan agreed to lead the community and Patti & Sue agreed to serve as advisors. I need to get some input from our legal counsel since some of the internship issues we are discussing involve labor laws.
  • I have selected SPJ’s EIJ15 programming committee volunteer – Athima Chansanchai (“Tima”) from the W. Washington Pro chapter. Tima was a diversity fellow this year and has helped with programming for the AAJA national convention several years ago. She will oversee the programming subcommittee that includes Paul Fletcher, Lynn Walsh and Patti Newberry.
  • Amy Tardif of RTDNA scheduled a pre-planning EIJ15 programming conference call for early January to discuss EIJ14 successes, areas for improvement and goals for EIJ15. Scott Leadingham, director of education, is scheduling his first EIJ15 planning call before the holidays.
  • We updated our statement speaking against Ohio legislation HB663, the secret executions bill, which went before the Ohio Senate Tuesday and today. Past president Kevin Smith attended on SPJ’s behalf.
  • SPJ Freelance Chair Michael Fitzgerald and I spoke regarding the Freelance Community to discuss the election process.
  • SPJ hosted a Digital Tools webinar taught by Kim Bui.
  • SPJ has made an agreement to provide services to another journalism organization and has put a call out to hire a part-time communications person to help with that work.
  • SDX did a big fundraising push this week, including a mailing and an email campaign. SPJ members are encouraged to set up monthly donations or make a one-time donation to help fund SDX’s efforts. Donate here.
  • New member benefits are forthcoming. Linda Hall has been working hard to develop new relationships and acquire new benefits for our members. SPJ HQ will announce those new benefits soon, so stay tuned!
  • We are trying to finalize all of the spring conferences. Some dates and locations are still tentative. The info. that is known can be found here.
  • Joe hired a replacement for the part-time membership retention coordinator. We are eager to welcome him aboard!
  • Tara Puckey was promoted to membership strategist to help further SPJ’s long-term mission and to address our changing membership needs. Linda Hall will continue to provide our members with the great service she always has. Congrats to Tara for this well-deserved promotion!
  • FOIA chair Dave Cuillier issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to pass the FOIA Improvement Act. SPJ tweeted this tonight. Senator Jay Rockefeller has put a hold on the bill.
  • Butler Cain, J Ed committee chair, held a meeting with his committee yesterday to discuss providing resources, guidance and a list of experts to help support high school journalists and educators.
  • Robyn Sekula, membership chair, is accepting nominations for the December Volunteer of the Month (deadline is tomorrow) and finalizing the committee’s strategic plan for the year.
  • Carlos Restrepo and the International Journalism Community are also finalizing their goals for the year and selecting their assignments and projects. We have an enthusiastic bunch here – I am excited to see them move forward!
  • Sarah Bauer, contest advisory group coordinator and co-chair of the Awards & Honors committee, is in the process of matching up SPJ contest swap partners across the country. This is a thankless task, but an important one. Thanks to Sarah for taking the lead!

Thanks to everyone within SPJ and SDX – staff, leaders and volunteers – who have contributed in some way to our success and mission. It truly takes a village, and we’ve got some big goals to tackle this year. I appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

As always, if I left something out, it was unintentional. My head is spinning with all of the activity, but if I omitted something, let me know, and I’ll update this post.

Til next time,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

 

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