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Getting public data from public officials

Getting public data from public officials

A guide to asking for data under the federal Freedom of Information Act and under North Carolina's open records law.

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Hope E Paasch

September 16, 2016
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Transcript

  1. HOW TO GET PUBLIC DATA HOPE E. PAASCH | WWW.HEPAASCH.COM

  2. PUBLIC DATA KEY OVERVIEW POINTS ▸ Federal and state are

    separate ▸ States vary widely from each other ▸ Fees can be charged, but governed by law ▸ Services exist to file open records requests for you ▸ Submission preferences vary: email, mail, forms ▸ Redaction is solution for commingled public/private data
  3. PUBLIC DATA 10 TIPS (PART ONE) ▸ Don’t be a

    jerk. Follow the rules. ▸ Be specific. But be broad enough. ▸ Figure out what exists. They don’t create new records. ▸ Learn the collection method. ▸ FOIA the FOIAs. FOIA the indexes. FOIA the schema.
  4. PUBLIC DATA 10 TIPS (PART TWO) ▸ Find the official

    person and the “worker” person. ▸ If you know a record exactly, describe it. ▸ Always cite the statute. Always keep a communication log. ▸ Be reasonable about response time. ▸ Copy someone who also might care.
  5. PUBLIC DATA FEDERAL FOIA DOES NOT COVER THESE EXEMPTIONS 1.

    Documents legally designated as secret 2. Internal agency rules and practices 3. Congress, President, Federal Courts, or protected by a specific law 4. Trade secrets, including financial information 5. Internal deliberative memos 6. Personnel, medical or similar records that would invade privacy 7. Law enforcement records that would compromise privacy, fairness, etc. 8. Certain records on supervision of financial institutions 9. Geological and geophysical information on gas and oil wells
  6. PUBLIC DATA WORTH NOTING ABOUT FEDERAL FOIA ▸ FOIA officers

    and liaisons are clearly designated ▸ 20 business days to give initial response ▸ Under presidential order to reduce backlog 10 % per year
  7. PUBLIC DATA UNDERSTANDING NORTH CAROLINA OPEN RECORDS ▸ Not as

    formal with FOIA officers. ▸ No “deliberative memo” exemption. ▸ Attorney general can advise but not enforce. ▸ Law requires agencies to keep index of databases.
  8. PUBLIC DATA LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR INDEX OF DATABASES ▸ List

    of data fields ▸ Description of the record layout ▸ Frequency of updates ▸ List of data fields that aren’t public ▸ Description of available formats ▸ Schedule of fees
  9. PUBLIC DATA FEES ▸ Request an estimate in writing before

    agreeing to it. ▸ Actual cost of copies is allowed, including digital. ▸ Extra staff time for tech work can cost. ▸ Can charge fee to create or compile new records. ▸ Cost estimate can be appealed. ▸ Govt cannot charge to separate private data from public.
  10. PUBLIC DATA NORTH CAROLINA EXEMPTIONS (PART ONE) ▸ Complete personnel

    files. Some data public (name, salary). ▸ Privileged attorney communications. ▸ Some state and local income tax information. ▸ Trade secrets. ▸ Details of criminal investigations. SBI exempt totally. ▸ 911 database of phone numbers, locations, names.
  11. PUBLIC DATA NORTH CAROLINA EXEMPTIONS (PART TWO) ▸ Autopsy photos,

    video, audio. ▸ Sensitive public security information. ▸ Industrial or business expansion while in negotiations.
  12. PUBLIC DATA — A SAMPLE LETTER I am writing to

    request information under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. Section 552) (((STATE: North Carolina Public Records Statute (NCGS Section 132-1)))). I am requesting the following data, in whatever digital form these records may be kept. ‣ Data structure and dictionaries for the Medical Examiner Information System ‣ All publicly available tables and fields in the MEIS database ‣ All public records from 2006 to present Please label the tables. If possible, please provide them as delimited text files on the department's FTP site. I also am willing to provide an external storage device, if needed. I understand that there may be reasonable fees allowed by law. (((IF TRUE: I am a web developer who is seeking to enable citizens better access to public information. This request is not for a commercial use and I am requesting a waiver of fees. Disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and my resulting web application will be made available to the general public.))) If you estimate that the fees will be more than $100, please inform me by email before fulfilling my request. If you take the position that these records are not subject to the open records law cited above, please provide a written explanation of the basis for your position, including the statute, regulation or other authority you relied on to reach that position. As required under FOIA, I look forward to hearing from you within 20 business days. (((STATE: I would appreciate a response by Oct. 15, 2016.))) Please contact me immediately if you have any questions about this request. I can be reached at 704-555-1212 or coconut_developer@duckmail.com. Sincerely, Patsy Squire CC: Dept head; your attorney; head of institution; elected official
  13. PUBLIC DATA REMEMBER THE BASICS ▸ Decide you want something.

    ▸ Try to figure out what exists. ▸ Check to see if anyone else has it or part of it. ▸ Ask in writing, nicely and clearly. CC someone. ▸ Wait. Check back. Wait. Keep a communication log. ▸ Appeal or escalate.
  14. PUBLIC DATA RESOURCES ▸ Federal list of all agency FOIA

    contacts ▸ MuckRock. Free info plus paid service ▸ Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press ▸ U.S. Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. Section 552) ▸ North Carolina Public Records Statute (NCGS Section 132-1) ▸ State-by-state report from National Association of Counties ▸ Investigative Reporters and Editors guide ▸ NC Open Government Coalition and NC Media Law handbook ▸ Charlotte Observer databases and Raleigh News & Observer databases
  15. www.hepaasch.com HOPE E. PAASCH PYTHON | DJANGO | RESTFUL API