Freedom of Information Act - taken too far? (Palin Emails)

• News
Primary Issue
CNN's Email Archive of Sarah Palin

I am personally on the fence about this, and am very interested to hear opinions on the merits and disadvantages of this type of action (the media posting the entire email-log of a politician for public consumption).

On one hand, I am all for transparency when it comes to government records. I don't totally buy the arguement that political figures lose all privacy when elected, but their government business that happens as a representative for the people needs to be open and accountable.
On the other hand, this is a circus. I don't think the Freedom of Information Act was passed expecting thousands of pages of correspondence to be posted for public exibition. Requesting budget numbers and specific official memos are one thing, but 'combing' a politician's life is another.

Secondary Issues
As this email voyeurism becomes more common (there are lots of examples of 'both sides' using this tactic for dirt sniffing), should publishing email correspondence become standard?

Evasion by using personal email - in the case of Sarah Palin, she used personal email quite a bit as well (and that was made available via this FOIA request). Should the government have that right? (Potential for abuse by evading FOIA requests vs. right to privacy using non-government resources)

Media abuse - is the FOIA 100% OK as is and this is just a case of abuse by the media that needs to be addressed individually?

Specificity - in the case of the Professors that have been 'email sniffed', the requests were very specific looking for keywords. The request made of then-Gov. Palin's emails was carte blanche. Does that make it any better/worse?

Please, try not to turn this into a bunch of ad hominem attacks on Sarah Palin and focus on the policy if applied generally.

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I think that if a politician sends an e-mail, or a letter, or something, that is related to their work (AKA: Politics), then it should be open for the FOIA. Anything else, no.

How do you do this? Well, when the request goes in, if it's a government e-mail, open it up (gov e-mails should really only be used for gov use). If it's in a private e-mail, have a few people go through and instead of just releasing the entire account, only release ones job-related (untrustworthy, yes, but it's better than just outright releasing the entire account).

of course, there's better ways but that ^ is just a simple way of putting the idea out of my mind and onto these forums.

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2021 Award
I heard that the emails were heavily redacted, and a couple of thousand were not released at all, and their release was hardly willy-nilly but took months, all due to Alaska having fairly stringent rules about releasing information that might be of a sensitive nature to government functions. Supposedly the state lawyers went through them all and it cost the government of Alaska about $1million. Given that, plus my belief that public officials should be held to as much transparency as can be reasonably consistent with the proper functioning of government, I don't see it as something to be on the fence about at all, but something to be applauded. The kind of thing that I would NOT think appropriate would be emails/cables about sensitive negotiations with foreign governments, as one example, by federal government officials. Things like the list of targets that government officials think need to be most protected from terrorists. Some of the kind of things that WERE released willy-nilly by widileaks. Too much time and too much effort for too little result. I'll pass on reading the full text myself, but any taxpayer should be able to read all the official stuff if they want to. I heard that the emails were heavily redacted, and a couple of thousand were not released at all, and their release was hardly willy-nilly but took months, all due to Alaska having fairly stringent rules about releasing information that might be of a sensitive nature to government functions. Supposedly the state lawyers went through them all and it cost the government of Alaska about$1million. Given that, plus my belief that public officials should be held to as much transparency as can be reasonably consistent with the proper functioning of government, I don't see it as something to be on the fence about at all, but something to be applauded.

The kind of thing that I would NOT think appropriate would be emails/cables about sensitive negotiations with foreign governments, as one example, by federal government officials. Things like the list of targets that government officials think need to be most protected from terrorists. Some of the kind of things that WERE released willy-nilly by widileaks.

Not that I'm disputing it, but where did you read that it cost $1mill to process the letters? Maybe the associative cost of processing the letters, esspecially in these extreme cases, should be born by the requestor(s). That might be all of the deterrence neccessary for this blanket request, except with the most grevious circumstances. And maybe I should have clarified a little more what I'm on the fence about - the scope of the request. I think FOIA is great, just this application of it seems like an abuse (and mockery?) of the system. It is 100% within the law, but is it right? If this type of request is to be the norm, why not just have all of the emails from any public official available 24/7 from a website or the like? Jimmy Snyder I hope they don't release the e-mail I sent her. If they do, it's going to blow the lid off this whole moon landing thing and a lot of good engineers are going to get hurt. NeoDevin Maybe the associative cost of processing the letters, esspecially in these extreme cases, should be born by the requestor(s). That might be all of the deterrence neccessary for this blanket request, except with the most grevious circumstances. That would provide transparency only to the rich. Not a good solution in my opinion. NeoDevin How do you do this? Well, when the request goes in, if it's a government e-mail, open it up (gov e-mails should really only be used for gov use). If it's in a private e-mail, have a few people go through and instead of just releasing the entire account, only release ones job-related (untrustworthy, yes, but it's better than just outright releasing the entire account). They have a government e-mail address for a reason. I think the moment they start using their private email for government business, the whole contents should be fair game. A better solution (in my opinion) would be to have a few people reviewing it, and as soon as the find one piece of government business, the whole lot should be released. (Exceptions for incoming e-mails which are immediately referred to the government e-mail address, since they have no control over that) Let them know that, if they decide to use their personal e-mail for official business, their personal e-mail address becomes government property. They have a government e-mail address for a reason. I think the moment they start using their private email for government business, the whole contents should be fair game. A better solution (in my opinion) would be to have a few people reviewing it, and as soon as the find one piece of government business, the whole lot should be released. (Exceptions for incoming e-mails which are immediately referred to the government e-mail address, since they have no control over that) Let them know that, if they decide to use their personal e-mail for official business, their personal e-mail address becomes government property. That is a good idea, however, to clarify, what constitutes government business? Anything from making an informal meeting with a secretary/assistant and up? Or as low as talking to someone else who's in the government? Not trying to make a slippery-slope argument here, just clarifying because I'd not like to see it abused by finding links that are almost random. Also, if you use Twitter/Facebook/whatever for semi-political use, or total-political use, and those accounts are linked to a non-government e-mail, does that open up the e-mail account (since PMs and such are sometimes sent to the e-mail), or would those be ignored since they are simply from another site, and only open up the other site (facebook/twitter/etc)? That would provide transparency only to the rich. Not a good solution in my opinion. Well, to the contrary, is it a good idea for an individual to incur millions of dollars of expenses for a library of emails? For 'simple' reqeusts that most individuals would do - they'd likely be free. A clerk finding and copying a document and a lawyer quickly redacting anything sensitive isn't too big of a deal. The thousands of pages for no real reason other than to dig dirt? That costs money - I did a quick google search on the taxpayer cost and couldn't really find one (the news agencies probably don't want to really make a big deal about how much this process cost the tax payers). Without making it too restrictive, I don't have a good solution to avoid this other than for individuals to show their displeasure with the excessive request. WhoWee The League of Women Voters and retired union member volunteers are sorting through the emails? http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=439x1271281 "Msnbc.com, the news website, is live-blogging the event here. Volunteers from the League of Women Voters and the Retired Public Employees of Alaska have joined us at the city's Centennial Hall convention center to help look at the records." How ridiculous - IMO. As much as I would like to see Barck Obama's emails when he was an Illinois state senator and a U.S. senator, I think this is going too far. I haven't seen the words "unreasonable search and seizure" used yet. This is America. Even politicians have rights. What's next? Tape all of their telephone calls? Video surveillance in the offices of all public officials. Do we want the people's business conducted in the Men's Room and back alleys? Skippy The people's business is already conducted in the Men's Room and back alleys.... haven't you seen all the sex scandals that come out like every week? The people's business is already conducted in the Men's Room and back alleys.... haven't you seen all the sex scandals that come out like every week? Normal, honest people can not function under 24/7 scrutiny. There will always be corruption and scandal; invasion of privacy is not the way to fight it. It was a joke. And they aren't going through 24/7 surveillance.... not even close. How much of your day/communication is done through your e-mail, actually, let me rephrase that... your WORK e-mail, the one that your business gives you to do official business on? To be sure, a lot, but not even close to 24/7 surveillance with video and sound. I'm not arguing that we need to open it up to 24/7 surveillance, I'm simply stating that e-mails are relatively minor, but still enough (or sometimes more than enough) to get an idea of the big picture if there is a scandal going on. Again, I'm not saying that we should tape everything, I'm simply saying that our politicians should have nothing to hide, and if they do have something to hide, the people who hire them should be able to see what it is, as long as where they look is part of the job that they hired them to do (see: government e-mail addresses). This does NOT include personal records like a note attached to a fridge for the husband about the upcoming birthday party, or phone calls made between friends. Science Advisor Gold Member 2021 Award Not that I'm disputing it, but where did you read that it cost$1mill to process the letters? Maybe the associative cost of processing the letters, esspecially in these extreme cases, should be born by the requestor(s). That might be all of the deterrence neccessary for this blanket request, except with the most grevious circumstances.

And maybe I should have clarified a little more what I'm on the fence about - the scope of the request. I think FOIA is great, just this application of it seems like an abuse (and mockery?) of the system. It is 100% within the law, but is it right? If this type of request is to be the norm, why not just have all of the emails from any public official available 24/7 from a website or the like?

The \$1million figure was from a TV news report, although I forget which channel it was on and can't say how reliable it was. I do have to agree w/ you that the scope of the request, which seems to have been "give us every email every written by SP on her state-owned computer" was ridiculously broad.

NeoDevin
That is a good idea, however, to clarify, what constitutes government business? Anything from making an informal meeting with a secretary/assistant and up? Or as low as talking to someone else who's in the government? Not trying to make a slippery-slope argument here, just clarifying because I'd not like to see it abused by finding links that are almost random.

Also, if you use Twitter/Facebook/whatever for semi-political use, or total-political use, and those accounts are linked to a non-government e-mail, does that open up the e-mail account (since PMs and such are sometimes sent to the e-mail), or would those be ignored since they are simply from another site, and only open up the other site (facebook/twitter/etc)?

The details would have to be ironed out if such a procedure were ever implemented. I was only proposing the general idea, rather than the specifics of it.

Aye, I was just wondering if you had any specifics in mind. I do like the general idea though.

WhoWee
As much as I would like to see Barck Obama's emails when he was an Illinois state senator and a U.S. senator, I think this is going too far. I haven't seen the words "unreasonable search and seizure" used yet. This is America. Even politicians have rights.

What's next? Tape all of their telephone calls? Video surveillance in the offices of all public officials. Do we want the people's business conducted in the Men's Room and back alleys?

Skippy

IMO - the only way the media can redeem itself after this - is to start doing it's job in an objective manner.

IMO - the only way the media can redeem itself after this - is to start doing it's job in an objective manner.

The irony of the situation is many are seeing Sarah Palin in a better light BECAUSE of this 'treasure trove' of emails which actually wasn't dirty like the media was expecting.

Do we expect too much perfection out of politicians? There are several in this thread that are suggesting more transparency because politicians shouldn't have anything to hide. When does too much transparency become a distraction?

WhoWee
IMO - all news should be reported on a factual basis. Likewise, all candidates should be vetted equally. Anytime a news organization holds back a story (protects a politician) they then have a certain level of influence over that politician - don't they?