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Privacy interest sufficient to keep wolf hunters names secret

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Privacy interest sufficient to keep wolf hunters names secret 01/12/98 ALASKA--The state Supreme Court in Anchorage unanimously ruled in late…

Privacy interest sufficient to keep wolf hunters names secret

01/12/98

ALASKA–The state Supreme Court in Anchorage unanimously ruled in late November that the state constitutional right to privacy prevents the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from disclosing the names of its employees and private contractors involved in a wolf population control program. The court did hold, however, that time sheets of the employees and contractors were subject to disclosure under the state Public Records Act.

The state Department of Fish and Game implemented a wolf control program during the winter of 1993-94 that involved the snaring, trapping and shooting of wolves by Department employees, using private contractors for transportation. During this period, the lives, property, and families of those involved in the program were threatened through letters and phone calls to various state offices.

In 1994, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance (AWA), a non-profit wildlife advocacy group, sought to audit money spent by the department on the program and made two requests for disclosure of its employees’ and contractors’ names and time sheets.

The department provided a list of its employees and time sheets, but redacted the names of those involved in the wolf control program, citing the state constitution’s right to privacy and the threats that had been received.

The AWA appealed to the superior court in Kodiak. The court affirmed the department’s decision as to the names and did not directly address the disclosure of the time sheets.

No Alaska case had considered whether public employee time sheets fall within the state Public Records Act’s definition of “public records.” The state Supreme Court held that time sheets, which indicate “merely the hours worked for the public employer” and which tell little about an individual’s personal life, are “public records.”

The high court permitted the time sheets to be disclosed, but required redaction of the names of employees and contractors participating in the wolf control program. The court found that withholding the names was justified because the employees and contractors had a legitimate expectation that their involvement in the program would not be disclosed after threats were received against their lives and their families. (Alaska Wildlife Alliance v. Rue; Counsel: Sharon Sturges, Anchorage)