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Pennsylvania court upbraids state agency for overbroad redactions

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  1. Freedom of Information
A Pennsylvania agency improperly redacted the names of all recipients of Homeland Security-funded contracts for first responder equipment and services,…

A Pennsylvania agency improperly redacted the names of all recipients of Homeland Security-funded contracts for first responder equipment and services, a state commonwealth court ruled.

A reporter from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review initially requested the emergency services contract information from the Emergency Management Agency in January 2009, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The agency claimed it had redacted certain information from the request due to public safety reasons. The state’s open records office ruled in favor of the agency, and the reporter appealed the decision.

On appeal, the commonwealth court held that the redactions were overly broad and that future removal may only be done after each item requested is examined individually to check for an applicable legal exemption.

"[We] fail to see how knowledge of the location of ‘bungee cords’ endangers public safety or security of facilities," the court wrote, citing the removal of the recipient of the cords as one of the over broad redactions. "The reproduced record is replete with examples of innocuous items the location of which is not vital to local, state or national public safety, preparedness or public protection activity."