Sunday, August 25, 2013

Washington State and access to information

I received this information below from someone who lives in Washington State, about the access to information situation there. It seems that Washington's situation is far more transparent and accountable to the people than ours is.

(Notice in particular the quote below in their state code. We need a clause like that in our FIPPA.)
Washington State is a lot like Canada when it comes to abortion, a near lawless wasteland. But the one good thing is the Public Records Law. I'd say we have the strongest of all 50 states. This preamble or "construction" is actually in the state code:
"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. This chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy and to assure that the public interest will be fully protected. In the event of conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any other act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern."
Basically, if you ask for a document the state has, they have to give it to you, as long as they redact any personally identifying information. And they automatically get punished if they don't, so you really don't have to work very hard to get records. The onus is on them, not on the requestor. 
On abortion, it turns out that doctors report every abortion to the state Department of Health. This data is published in statistical form every year by the DOH. I have previously requested the raw data and received it, but the abortionists once up on a time got a law prohibiting the release of any information identifying the abortion clinic or abortionist, so that stuff was redacted/removed.
But if they want to hide it, I want to see it.
So it occurred to me that if they won't give me the clinic info, I could do an end-run around their restriction by requesting the data by clinic. Legal technicalities! So I asked for all abortion records where the facility is X. And then did that for a whole bunch of clinics. This worked on the first one (a non-profit hospital chain out here). So then I did a batch of requests including Planned Parenthood and the major free-standing abortion mills. Now when the state is about to release info it has that is about you, they must notify you. So all the abortion clinics were notified that this data was about to be released. It turns out they all got together to sue the government not to release the data (which is their legal right.) 
So that's where we're at. So legally the government and I are actually co-defendants, and most of the abortion clinics in the state are suing us to prevent release of records. It turns out that there is case law where the state Supreme Court has ruled on almost identical legal issues, so it should be cut and dry.

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