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Study shows freedom of information law ignored

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Study shows freedom of information law ignored

  • A University of Texas at Tyler study found that police and sheriff organizations were the most common offenders of the state’s open records law.

Jan. 9, 2003 — Police organizations routinely violated freedom of information laws in a 14-county study led by at the University of Texas at Tyler Department of Communications.

Officials at the police departments produced requested documents 68 percent of the time, but they questioned the requestor in 64 percent of the cases, even though the state law places no limits on who can request records and specifically directs agencies to provide information on application by any person.

The study, organized in part by representatives of the Longview News-Journal, the Tyler Morning Telegraph, was conducted from May through September 2002 and results were published Dec. 28.

Researchers examined whether agencies examined, which included city governments, police stations and community colleges, had a posted Texas Public Information Act notice, had questioned requestors, and produced documents within the required 10 working days.

Only 16 percent of the agencies assessed passed all three of the requirements. Vanessa Curry, a journalism lecturer and faculty advisor at the university, said the low rate is likely due to ignorance of freedom of information laws.

Agencies’ most frequent violation of the open records law was questioning the requestor or even requiring identification for access to documents.

The agencies that performed best were county governments, none of which questioned requestors.

The survey also showed that persons identifying themselves as members of a media organization gained easier access. The Texas Public Information Act is designed to make government information available to anyone.

Curry began the study as part of a reporting class she was teaching at the university. She said that, as a former reporter, she found the results of the study better than she had expected them to be.

KD


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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