by Matthew Hardin
FME Law Counsel
Why does E&E stay so busy? Because forces on the left are always scheming to keep records of their work safe from public scrutiny. The latest example is a new report issued by the Union of Concerned scientists: Freedom to Bully: How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers. The report, which discusses E&E Legal’s recent fight for records relating to Michael Mann’s work at the University of Virginia, is a how-to guide for academics on how to avoid open records laws, and a proposal for legislative and policy changes to further insulate the work conducted by publicly-funded scientists from the public’s view.
Among the report’s proposals, which in reality gut the entire letter and spirt of open records laws, include:
- Rewriting laws to consider the “best interest” of an individual scientist rather than the best interest of the university, or of the taxpayer;
- Exempting academics from state open records laws;
- Making disclosure of university records voluntary;
- Allowing academics themselves to determine which of their records should be released to the public and which ones should remain private.
These proposals turn traditional concepts of how open records laws should work on their heads. Gone would be the “presumption of openness” in all records created at taxpayer expense. Gone would be the independence of FOIA officers and records custodians at both the state and federal level. Under the last proposal, there would no longer be any legal process at all for the public to gain access to these records.
Academics on the left once championed open records laws as a tool for the public to become informed about their government. A combination of federal and state laws has been in place for almost a century now ensuring public access to the records created with tax dollars. Once academics find their own work under fire, however, lofty theories about public access are discarded. The academy’s new motto seems to be “Sunshine for thee, and privacy for me.”
Thankfully, the Union of Concerned Scientists has been unsuccessful getting their proposals adopted by state legislatures, but it’s not been from a lack of effort. E&E, however, will not rest. We’ve been in contact with legislative leaders at both the state and federal level to fight for the public’s right to know what sort of work they are funding. And we will continue to fight in the courts to make sure academics on the left receive the same level of scrutiny they champion for others.