ACLU’s public information requests had been denied by Department of Corrections which claimed not to be able to pull information from its own databases; settlement in lawsuit requires DOC to comply with requests

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 20, 2013
CONTACT:  ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363 - 2737

TALLAHASSEE – A settlement has been reached ending a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida against the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) over the DOC’s refusal to provide information housed in an electronic database in response to an ACLU of Florida public records request. The settlement effectively debunks the argument that a government entity can deny the public requested information from the data the government collects  by refusing to do the necessary search of its own database.

As part of the ACLU of Florida’s ongoing work protecting individuals in the Florida criminal justice system, the organization submitted a public records request to the DOC for data about inmate housing at Santa Rosa Correctional Institute. The DOC responded by claiming that, although it had the requested information in a database, it had no duty to provide the data because extracting the data would ‘create’ a new record which the law does not require it to do. The ACLU of Florida then filed a lawsuit to compel the department to release the data.

Given the advances in information technology and the increasing share of data kept in electronic databases, retrieval of public data should be easier than ever. However, the DOC’s argument would allow any government agency to refuse its legal obligation to share information with the public by simply opting not to create a report based on the data requested. The ACLU’s lawsuit challenged this notion, and the settlement effectively put it to rest.

The settlement entered into this week compels the DOC to comply with the public records requests, effectively ending the ACLU’s legal challenge.

The following statement on the settlement agreement is from Benjamin Stevenson, ACLU of Florida staff attorney:

“This settlement is a victory for anyone who believes that the government should be accountable to the people it serves.

“The Department of Corrections had ludicrously denied that it had a duty to provide certain information, not because the data didn’t exist, but simply because they didn’t have a search already set up to retrieve it. This is not how data works in 2013, when electronic information is easier to manage and retrieve than ever.

“This settlement signals a policy change. The Department should no longer refuse the ACLU or any other Floridian's request to extract public information from its databases. The DOC’s reversal should put to rest the idea that government can hide behind a misunderstanding of its own technology to keep information from the public.”

A copy of the settlement, filed with the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit in and for Leon County, Florida is available here:

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