Is the state freedom of information law free?
No, the Oregon Attorney General’s office charges $25 a pop for the public’s document and has refused to put a free download online.
UO Economics Professor Bill Harbaughâ€”a longtime critic of UO athletic and administrative spending and affirmative actionâ€”didn’t like that. So he scanned the whole AG manual on the law and put it on his blog.
Harbaugh says the AG office claimed it, not the public, owned the public document on how to get public documents.
So will the AG go after Harbaugh for alleged copyright infringement? The professor doubts it. And the records may be virtually out of the AG’s barn. Harbaugh says hundreds have downloaded the document and several sites have now also posted it (here’s one mirror.)
Harbaugh’s action has called big attention to the failure of Oregon’s public records law to actually deliver public records. The public record liberation drew hundreds of outraged comments on the widely read slashdot.org. The Oregonian also blogged the freedom of infromation action.
Journalists and other reformers have been trying to push new Oregon Attorney General John Kroger to follow up on campaign promises and address long delays, exorbitant charges and legal maneuvering that bureaucrats have for decades used to keep the public in the dark. So far Kroger hasn’t acted.
Locally, the city of Eugene has a long history of blocking freedom of information with outrageous fees. In a digital age when video, audio, images and text are searchable in a blink and whisk over the internet in seconds, the city still charges $10 for a two page police report and $10 for a one minute recording of a 911 call. The city even wants the public to pay inflated wages for city employee or private attorney time spent trying to hide public records or make them harder to get. Of course, the city will ream citizens with all the PR spin they can bear for free.
The city of Eugene charges appear to violate state law requiring governments only charge their actual cost of providing records, but the attorney general doesn’t enforce the law.
At the county level, the Lane Council of Governments shadow government used taxpayer money to create an extensive mapable database (RLID) of home values, sales, taxes, liens, deeds, demographic, zoning and other data. But if taxpayers want access to the public records, they have to pay $200 plus $1,080 a year for a subscription to the public information they ostensibly already own.
As founding father James Madison wrote:
“A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both.”
As Harbaugh pointed out, Oregon’s freedom of information law is a farce.