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Finally, A Sensible Public Records Policy
by Robert Franco | 2008/06/06 |

Bulk public records requests have gotten out of hand.  The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has become a tool for modern day gold mining... or perhaps more fitting... data mining.  Companies have been using FOIA to obtain documents for fractions of a cent each.  Finally, one county has set a sensible policy - get it yourself!

Source of Title Blog ::

According to an article on Gering, Scott's Bluff County, and several other counties have received FOIA requests for every record the county assessor maintains on a monthly basis. The requests are from County Records, Inc. and they indicate the company is willing to pay "reasonable charges" for the information, but it is unlikely that they would consider the counties normal charge of 50 cents per parcel ($11,000/mo) reasonable.

Ramos [the county assessor] said that while the technology exists allowing an outside company to directly access the assessor's database, she would oppose that option.
"People are welcome to retrieve the information themselves..."


County Attorney Derek Weimer told the board he was also concerned about allowing outside agencies access to the county's database. He suggested responding to the request by stating County Records is welcome to all their public records via the Internet or by inspecting the documents in the assessor's office. However, the county would not change its records policy or add staff just to meet the request.

"They're welcome to the information just like anyone else," Ramos said. "They'll also be charged the same copying fees that anyone else would. That's consistent and fair."


"These companies profit from the information we supply them, which is okay," said commission chairman Mark Masterton. "This is public information, so people can access it in the way we offer it. We're not going to hire extra personnel to provide them with an alternate way to access the information."

There is speculation that County Records might find the charges unreasonable and appeal the decision to the Nebraska Attorney General.  But, it is not unreasonable to expect them to obtain the records the same way everyone else does... and pay the same fee.  The counties should not be expected to make "special deals" for people who want to buy the records in bulk merely because the technology exists to accommodate them.  If they want information, they can access it on the Internet like everyone else.  Just because they want the information in a special format that would make it easier for them to integrate with their system and re-sell it doesn't mean the county should change its policy. 

This is a perfectly appropriate and reasonable response to the FOIA request.  "Here is a link to our Web site, all of the information you have requested is available there."  If the information can be obtained without the necessity of resorting to a FOIA request at taxpayers expense, the county should have no duty to provide it in another format that is more convenient.  This is especially true when the request is for commercial purposes. 

The FOIA was not intended to be a tool for commercial entities to mine data.  It was intended to ensure that government records were not kept secret; it provides a check and balance on government power.  If the information the county maintains is being made available to the public in another format, that purpose is not thwarted.  Therefore, there should be no special treatment given to greedy corporations that seek to mine counties' public records to make a profit.

The laws have not kept up with the technology that is available today. The FOIA is being abused and our legislatures need to put a stop to it. 

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Public Records

874 words | 3392 views | 2 comments | log in or register to post a comment

Denied FOIA requests for bulk data

Robert: A few years back after a lengthy discussion with David Bloys and Lisa Ramsey from Texas about how the counties I access were selling all the records they have at a discount just like it has been described on here- I went to the clerk's offices and inquired as to their policy regarding FOIA requests and if they "cave" in to them- there answer was a big "NO" we don't sell our data like that- they can come in and get it just like you do or anyone else, at the going rate.
Despite what some of these sites indicate , like "Red Vision" and others that they have "all the records" available - but upon direct contact  with them that was never the case- they just are blowing smoke to get people to try them out, then they hire someone to go into these counties to actually get the documents for them, one of the companies that promoted the fact that they were able to get all the docs from the places I do work- after contact with them, they were not really able to get them- they were working on setting it up , but no scheduled time had been determined yet-that was about the same time- 2+years ago- and still nothing is available from them-because our clerks have denied them the access and rate they want to pay-- and another thing- alot of the companies want you to "actually go to the court house" to get a copy- why would they do that? I was contacted recently by a document supplying company- I had offered my services to assist them in the places I work-told them I could provide copies in matter of minutes if they needed- what better service could they ask for- their reply- I had to drive to the courthouse and wait in the record room for them to request a copy for me to obtain- how inefficient can that be- I let them know I was not willing to waste my time , gas and money to do that - but if they wanted something - the way I could do it, quick and accurate- just to let me know, otherwise,remove me from their list of providers .

Steve Meinecke

by STEVE MEINECKE | 2008/06/06 | log in or register to post a reply

I Recently Wrote About a Similar Case out of New York State... which Data Tree, LLC. took the Suffolk County Clerk's Office to court to compel them to provide to Data Tree with copies of public land records dating from January 1, 1983 to the present, pursuant to the state's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).  The Clerk's Office denied the January 2004 request.

The Supreme Court and the Appellate Division rendered summary judgment in favor of the County and denying Data Tree's request.  However, in  Matter of Data Tree, LLC v. Romaine, 9 NY3d 454 (2007), the Court of Appeals reversed, holdng that "questions of fact exist as to whether compliance with such request would require the Clerk to disclose information excluded under the privacy exemption of FOIL and whether the Clerk has the ability to comply with the request in the format sought by Data Tree."

I understand the Court of Appeals (New York State's highest court) has remanded the case to the lower court for hearing on two issues, namely, whether or not compliance with the FOIL would cause an unreasonable amount of expense to the taxpayer; secondly, whether or not the public interest outweighs personal privacy interests.

Open-records laws were intended to facilitate transparency in government to the citizenry and were never meant to be used by large corporations as a battering ram to strong-arm their way into our record rooms.  I agree with you, Rob.  We need to start lobbying our state legislators to close the loopholes in those laws to protect the interests of the private citizens that government serves.


by Scott Perry | 2008/06/06 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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