Don't slip when it comes to government transparency.
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Editor’s Note:This column originally appeared on Ian Lind’s blog, iLind.net, and is reprinted with his permission.
A legislative staffer told a reporter that it would be necessary to get permission before recording a briefing held in a state capitol conference room, according to a story yesterday in Civil Beat.
Civil Beat commented: “We can only hope that there’s no confusion at the Capitol that a public meeting is just that, and nobody needs to seek permission to record it.”
In addition, though, it would be good to point out that the state’s sunshine law specifically permits audio recording of any meeting.
§92-9 Minutes. (a) The board shall keep written minutes of all meetings. Unless otherwise required by law, neither a full transcript nor a recording of the meeting is required, but the written minutes shall give a true reflection of the matters discussed at the meeting and the views of the participants. The minutes shall include, but need not be limited to:
(1) The date, time and place of the meeting;
(2) The members of the board recorded as either present or absent;
(3) The substance of all matters proposed, discussed, or decided; and a record, by individual member, of any votes taken; and
(4) Any other information that any member of the board requests be included or reflected in the minutes.
(b) The minutes shall be public records and shall be available within thirty days after the meeting, except where such disclosure would be inconsistent with section 92-5; provided that minutes of executive meetings may be withheld so long as their publication would defeat the lawful purpose of the executive meeting, but no longer.
(c) All or any part of a meeting, of a board may be recorded by any person in attendance by means of a tape recorder or any other means of sonic reproduction, except when a meeting is closed pursuant to section 92-4; provided the recording does not actively interfere with the conduct of the meeting.
It may be that the “briefing” was not technically a “meeting” of the committee as defined by the sunshine law, and not subject to all of the requirements. But it would be quite difficult for any legislator to argue that their publicly-announced session would be off-limits to reporters with recorders.
Perhaps this was a new staffer unfamiliar with the ways of the world. Now they know.
There’s a lot happening in this area of the right to record public officials in the course of their duties. As reported elsewhere, Big Island blogger Damon Tucker faced criminal charges for recording an interaction with police, at least until sanity prevailed.
In Chicago last weekend, a Loyola University journalism professor was arrested last weekend for recording an arrest in a public place.
That case appears to be tied to a controversial Illinois eavesdropping law which prohibits recording conversations without the permission of all parties, which has been used to shield police and other officials from recordings by citizens, even while carrying out their official duties in public places.
The law has been challenged by the ACLU, and a court decision is pending.
This harkens back to the 1980s, when Hawaii state officials used the new state privacy law to block public disclosure of things like government contracts, because disclosure would reveal the names of the public officials who approved or signed the contracts. These unreasonable applications of the law led to the adoption of the Uniform Information Practices Act, which requires the balancing of privacy interests (if any) against the public interest in disclosure.
About the author:Ian Lind is a former award-winning investigative reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin who has been blogging at iLind.net since 1999.
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