Punishing Citizens for FOIA Requests

By Paul Gable

The S.C. House has possibly outdone even itself with a bill that would punish citizens for making FOIA requests.

H.3191 is this beauty and it has already passed from the House to the Senate in its progress to becoming law.

Provisions in the law would allow public agencies to take legal action against citizens who make “overly broad” or “unduly burdensome” requests for public records.

What constitutes “overly broad” and/or “unduly burdensome”? There are no definitions in the law, so basically anything a public agency chooses to classify that way.

Can you imagine the poor citizen who wants information from his or her government and winds up with a summons instead?

Public agencies really hate to make information available in many instances. Many truly believe the public has no right to know or doesn’t need to know how or why laws are made or, more importantly, who really benefits from some new regulation or expense of public money.

This is a country that has massively increased its abilities to spy on its citizens in the last 15 years. Call it homeland security or war on terror or zero tolerance if that makes you feel good.

What it really amounts to is the government wants to eliminate any right to privacy for its citizens while keeping secret its own machinations.

Since when, in America, do we not have a right to know what the government is doing?

H.3191 doesn’t specifically deny citizens the right to file an FOIA, but it does threaten retribution if the public agency, on its own volition, does not like the request.

I’m not sure even George Orwell could have imagined this.

 

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