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Wisconsin can consider requesters' intent, court says

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  1. Freedom of Information
A Wisconsin appeals court has ruled that state agencies may consider a requester's intent before releasing public records under the…

A Wisconsin appeals court has ruled that state agencies may consider a requester's intent before releasing public records under the state's freedom of information law.

Previously, Wisconsin, like most states, did not require a public record requester to provide their name or the reason for seeking information.

The court last week was considering a case in which a man requested the employment records of a public school employee he was suspected of abusing. The Milwaukee School Board refused to release the information to that requester, citing a previous restraining order against the man and concerns for the employee's safety.

The man's lawyer told the Associated Press that the appeals court's decision sets a precedent in which the government could withhold documents from citizens or news organizations who might use public information to criticize the government.

"We're setting a precedent where you could have a custodian who doesn't agree with a media outlet or a particular citizen's viewpoint and … deny the request," Mason told the AP. "That is not supported anywhere in the case law and it is a slippery slope."

Wisconsin does often deny public records access to incarcerated people, and the appeals court said that the man's history with the employee "align[s] him more closely with the class of persons statutorily denied access to public records for all safety reasons."

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Wisconsin – Open Government Guide