Freedom of Information Acts: A double-edged sword in a time of emotional and political unrest

In the legal academy, a petition was circulated among law professors last month that opposed the appointment of Jeff Sessions nomination to be our next attorney general.  There were nearly 1500 signatures.  The petition and its signatories are found here:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/167Ci3pVqwzOUe7_e7itlpew1qGcTo0ZD5dNICIbLQWA/pub.

This month, a reporter working for a conservative political publication relied on the Open Records Act to obtain “a copy of each email (inbound, outbound, deleted, or double deleted) for the university email accounts of Professor Andrea A. Curcio at the University of Georgia and [a colleague who also signed the letter] from the dates of December 15, 2016, to and including January 3, 2017, which includes any of the keywords “Sessions,” or “Jeff Sessions” or “Attorney General.” According the press accounts, similar requests was received by university counsel for law professor signatories working at other public institutions.

The publication is relying on the state versions, what is commonly referred to as open records laws.  Some states label them open information laws or public information acts.  In Hawaii, our version is codified at Haw. Rev. Stat. 92F.  Regardless of what the popular name of the law is, the concept is the same:  public employees are subject to the same open records laws as every other public employee in his state or open information laws that make emails and other written documentation of agencies and individuals who work for those agencies subject to public inspection.

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