News: The Association of Washington Cities proposes five broad updates to the Public Records Act.

Background and analysis:

Charging for electronic records

AWC’s rep to me at least seems to be asking for the right to charge for the transfering of electronic records. The Seattle Police Department and City of Everett charge at minimum a $1.25 to have records transfer via either GovQA (SPD) or $2.80 via a public file transfer server (Everett as of December 2015). These records are based on time spent by records officers to make the transfer. There was a bill proposed last year to implement a per megabyte charge.

Put a stop to Tim Clemans

AWC asks that bot requests be banned. There’s only one person I know of who has done bot requests to agencies in Washington and that’s me. Other than the person who asked for all records from Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office I believe I’m the one who has made “give me all your records” requests. Numerous agencies sent me denials for bot requests and all records requests.

Cost recovery for complex requests

AWC wants a way to recover more of the total cost of responding to massive requests or for records that take a long time to review/redact. Police video is a good example of a type of record they want cost recovery beyond copying fees.

Alterative to court

Man I want this.

Funding for IT assistance

I believe the retrival, review, redaction, and release of electronic public records is largely an IT problem. In most cases there will always be a need for a human in the loop. However the ability to automatically retrive say police video, know which videos likely need to be redacted, and redact visual parts of video assisted by motion-detection or color range techniques has been prototyped and could be deployed. As for release any agency could use say Dropbox’s free 2gb to get started. Software could be developed to make uploading to Dropbox and sending out link/password to requester a few clicks.

Opinion:

In general I think AWC’s requests are reasonable. I think bots should be allowed at no more than 2 requests per day per agency to give requesters an efficient way to deal with lack of “standing requests”. Before I was hired by Seattle Police, Mike Wagers joking suggested I make a bot to respond to my bot. Frankly I think it’s very doable to do automated 5 day responses. Heck a computer might give a better estimate using data in say GovQA than a human.

Rather than focusing on the extreme end “all records requests” I think AWC should focus on number of records requested. When you get into hundreds of thousands of emails etc the agency’s ability to release those in one’s lifetime is pretty slim. Even just asking for all May Day body camera videos can trigger a multiple month proccess. My personal experience has taught me that vast numbers of records are uninteresting. I personally wrote code to auto over-redact records such as police reports and videos. In my opinion the PRA should require agencies to auto over-redact and for requesters to use those previews to make narrow requests. Huge requests doesn’t help either side especially if you have news stories to write.

I am not a fan of agencies charging for electronic records. I wish agencies would make records release efficient rather than trying to stop large requests via fees. That said I hate it when agencies refuse to release records via the internet because of this issue. So I appluade Seattle Police and Everett for offering electronic transfer at a rate less than snail mail.

There was discussion in today’s meeting about proactive release. In order for proactive release to be more attractive to agencies there needs to be the same good-faith liability protection for over-release. And I think there’s needs to be significant reduction in the burden of the PRA when a request is for records where there are previews of the records online. In the case of someone requesting every police report, over-redacted previews should be made available, and then the requester pick no more than 10% that need less redaction to be understandable.

One thing that was not discussed today is the allocation of resources. There is no specific guidelines in the PRA for how to piroritize requests/requesters. Surely someone requesting records for next week’s council meeting should get higher priority than Tim Clemans asking for all police reports. I’d like to see a formula for agencies to follow. This way both agencies and requesters have a method for detrimining if there has been an unreasonable delay.