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Red Flags

You Know you Have a Problem With FOI When:

A privacy coalition forms in your community or your state, perhaps in advance of an upcoming legislative session.

Newspapers receive a wave of letters or commentaries calling for more protection of personal privacy.

An elected official – governor, attorney general, legislator – calls for a special task force to address public access to government information. (NOTE: Such studies may be required by the law and, even if they aren’t, can be very productive in improving FOI laws and policies. However, FOI advocates should insist that their viewpoint is represented on any commission and that the leadership is not biased toward an anti-access view.)

A government agency announces a new policy to close certain records or institute new procedures for requesting records.

A government entity attempts to muzzle frequent “gadflies” or critics.

A judge suddenly closes a court proceeding and orders all observers out. (NOTE: Remember that courts are not subject to open meetings laws. However, any time a court proceeding is closed, journalists should make sure the judge has followed procedure and explain the rules surrounding courtroom closures to the public. The media also should be active in challenging courtroom closures that they believe are unwarranted or improper.)

Government files, which had been available, suddenly become unavailable.

A government employee wants to know “why you want” information or records.

A government agency increases the price of copies or duplication.

A government agency (or a local government) purchases a new computer system that stores information in a new format. (A format incompatible with yours.)

Meetings of deliberative bodies are held without notice.

Regularly scheduled meetings are re-scheduled to new times.

Meetings are held without printed agendas.

A government council, committee, or other decision-making body holds frequent “executive sessions” without fully explaining why.

Minutes from meetings are not available.

Your local television station or newspaper does a big “Don’t Let This Happen to You” story warning about potential violations of people’s privacy.

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