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Using the Open Records Law To Intimidate Critics 369

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-the-case-of-letter-v-spirit dept.
Layzej writes "On March 15, Professor Bill Cronon posted his first blog. The subject was the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in influencing recent legislation in Wisconsin and across the country. Less than two days later, his university received a communication formally requesting under the state's Open Records Law copies of all emails he sent or received pertaining to matters raised in the blog. Remarkably, the request was sent to the university's legal office by Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, with no effort to obscure the political motivations behind it. In a recent editorial, the New York Times notes that demanding copies of e-mails and other documents is the latest technique used politically to silence critics."
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Using the Open Records Law To Intimidate Critics

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  • by c0lo (1497653) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @09:07AM (#35629228)

    The FOI is perfectly legal,

    Except the cases in which is illegal.
    TFA:

    Let me offer just a few concrete examples.

    A number of the emails caught in the net of Mr. Thompson’s open records request are messages between myself and my students. All thus fall within the purview of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA, sometimes known as the “Buckley Amendment,” named for its author Senator James Buckley—the brother of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley). The Buckley Amendment makes it illegal for colleges or universities to release student records without the permission of those students, [...]

    Many more of the emails that would be released under this open records request are communications with colleagues of mine at other institutions about various matters that have nothing whatsoever to do with Wisconsin politics or the official business of the University of Wisconsin-Madison—but they do involve academic work that typically assumes a significant degree of privacy and confidentiality. [...]The emails include, for instance, conversations with authors and editors about book manuscripts, and also the deliberations of two professional boards on which I sit, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) and the American Historical Association (AHA), the latter of which I now serve as President-Elect. Online email exchanges among members of these boards are expected to be confidential, so that all of us are admonished not to share each other’s emails lest doing so discourage colleagues from being candid in sharing their views.

  • Re:Over-reaction (Score:5, Informative)

    by eggoeater (704775) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @09:14AM (#35629262) Journal
    He is NOT a public employee; he is an employee of a university which (more often than not depending on the state) is a separate legal entity.

    Just because an organization receives government funding does not make them a government agency.
    Also, if what you say were true, then every book written by a professor would be in the public domain.
  • by c0lo (1497653) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @09:22AM (#35629298)

    If there's anything "chilling" about this request, I sure don't see it. When you write a blog article that is critical of a political party, and get over a half-million hits within days, you should expect a little attention from the people you're poking a stick at.

    A little attention would have been good. Seems rather a case of huge attention and too small of a care

    TFA:

    A number of the emails caught in the net of Mr. Thompson’s open records request are messages between myself and my students. All thus fall within the purview of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA, sometimes known as the “Buckley Amendment,” named for its author Senator James Buckley—the brother of conservative intellectual William F. Buckley). The Buckley Amendment makes it illegal for colleges or universities to release student records without the permission of those students, [...]

  • by sycodon (149926) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @09:32AM (#35629344)

    It wouldn't be "illegal". It just wouldn't apply in the case where communications are protected by other statutes.

  • Re:Over-reaction (Score:5, Informative)

    by Compholio (770966) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @10:55AM (#35629778)

    He is NOT a public employee; he is an employee of a university which (more often than not depending on the state) is a separate legal entity.

    He works for the University of Wisconsin, a public state-owned university. Granted such things can vary by state - but I work for a state university as a graduate research assistant and I know we were warned by legal a while ago that the same thing can happen to us, even as grad students.

  • by Burz (138833) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @11:04AM (#35629824) Journal

    This has absolutely no relation to the subject at hand. The person who runs the blog isn't a public official or state employee.

    Also the link you posted doesn't single out any one type of political group. It could be used by conservatives too.

    Lastly, the laws protecting the emails and the political donation info of private citizens are very different.

  • by gd2shoe (747932) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @11:11AM (#35629860) Journal

    It's simply not true. I'm about as liberal as they come, and I have exactly zero interest in shutting down or changing talk radio.

    If you can't tell the difference between yourself, and them, you're in real trouble. Most of them are simply power hungry. (Most Republicans too, mind you.)

    Democrats really did float the Fairness doctrine a few years back, but I don't think they actually tried to legislate it. The Republicans and talk radio got all up in a huff, though. Now bleeding hearts want to rewrite history. The evil nasty fairness doctrine? We didn't bring it up...

    WALLACE: So would you revive the fairness doctrine?

    FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,286442,00.html#ixzz1HoR5lXx1
    (Yeah, it's fox. It's also a direct quote.)

  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @12:09PM (#35630328)

    Proposition 8 is hardly a valid example. The people have a pretty clear right to know who it is that's funding an unconstitutional measure to rescind rights. It also turned out that the Mormons were abusing their tax exempt status to tinker directly in the election process in a way which normally requires the funds not be tax exempt giving them an unfair advantage over the opposition.

    Here in WA we've had the same argument going on over referendum 71 because they decided that they didn't want to actually be accountable for trying to revoke the civil rights of a minority group.

    In practice, the claims of intimidation have been greatly exaggerated, and represented far less actual intimidation than the groups claiming to be targeted have meted out to others over the years.

  • by Uberbah (647458) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @01:51PM (#35631152)

    Democrats really did float the Fairness doctrine a few years back

    Only if you also run around claiming that the Republicans have floated a return to the Gold Standard because a Republican in the House talks about it.

    When has Obama tried reinstating the FD.

    When Speaker Pelosi try to reinstate the FD.

    When did Majority Leader Reid try to reinstate the FD.

    When have any Democratic-controlled committees tried to reinstate the FD.

  • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Sunday March 27, 2011 @04:22PM (#35632064)

    Umm, Climategate anyone? Or George McGovern's misguided advice on nutrition, which led to our low-fat/low calorie diet regime and USDA food recommendations that have increased carbohydrate consumption and chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease?

    The Democrats have *always* been interfering with science, because any government intervention into science is by its very definition interference. Imagining the Republicans as "anti-science" and "anti-intellectual", and the Democrats as somehow "pro-science" and "pro-intellectual" is just as bad as stereotyping Democrats as the founders of the KKK, and Republicans as "the party of Lincoln". Both parties suck, and the naive belief that either of them is a "good guy" or "bad guy" fails to recognize what they really are -> politicians who will do anything to get elected again, with electoral bases that are biased, ugly and brutish.

    That all being said, when you want to talk about a "big hoax", show me your falsifiable theory before asserting that the "science is settled."

"The vast majority of successful major crimes against property are perpetrated by individuals abusing positions of trust." -- Lawrence Dalzell

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