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State denies newspapers' request for cities with SARS cases

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Freedom of Information    

State denies newspapers’ request for cities with SARS cases

  • Department of Public Health cited privacy concerns in denying release of the information.

May 15, 2003 — Citing privacy concerns, the Connecticut Department of Public Health on May 13 denied access to the Manchester Journal Inquirer for hometowns of people with potential cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The newspaper made the request after three cases had been reported in the state. The state has now reported eight possible cases of the disease.

“The department cannot produce reports in response to specific requests that would result in linking the report to an identifiable individual or organization,” William Gerrish, a spokesman for the department told the Associated Press, according to a May 13 AP report.

The newspaper wants only the names of the towns in which the suspected SARS carriers live. It claims that because it is not asking for specific names, addresses or personal information about suspected SARS carriers, the privacy concerns should not apply.

“Unless you have a town of one person, it is hard to figure out who these people are,” said Paul Green, Journal Inquirer state editor.

Green noted that release of the information is important for the public to make decisions.

“Suppose there are 900 cases of smallpox in Connecticut . . . [and] 850 of them are in one particular town. Don’t the people from that town have a right to know this so they can take appropriate steps,” he said.

On March 6, the newspaper was denied its request see the state’s response plans in case of a smallpox outbreak by the Department of Public Health.

According to Green, the Journal Inquirer plans to contest both decisions before the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

GS


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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