What Have You Got to Hide?

“What have you got to hide?”  This question comes up too often.  In other cases, it doesn’t come up enough.  Mostly, it’s asked by police when wanting to search a vehicle, home, or even a person, without a search warrant.

The annual Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s luncheon and program was held last Friday, September 24.  The speaker, Karen Kaiser, the Associated Press’s in-house lawyer, turned the table and encouraged those in attendance (primarily media representatives) to ask the question of government officials and staff.  It gets tougher all the time to obtain information from elected leaders and the people they employ to operate “our” government.  What have they got to hide?

During the question and answer period, KCCI-TV News Director Dave Busiek referred to the difficulty news outlets have in obtaining information that is perhaps irrelevant to an investigation. It’s almost funny how law enforcement agencies hesitate to produce in-dash camera videos from police cars, but when the agency has a promo piece it wants to hit all corners of the earth it expects the media to print or broadcast its news release without delay.

Iowa’s public records laws, Iowa Code Chapter 22, has been around for almost 40 years.  In the beginning, there were 11 exceptions to the chapter’s requirements for government to produce records to the public upon request.  Today, there are over 60 exceptions carved into the law.

Here’s something to consider.  When a bill is presented in the Iowa Legislature that pertains to Chapter 22, or Chapter 21 (Open Meetings), a group of about 25-30 people will gather around a table.  Three of the group will most likely be legislators; 3 others will be those of us from the outside (lobbyists representing newspapers, broadcasters, or Fawkes-Lee & Ryan subscribers); and the remaining people at the table are paid by government entities.  Those people are paid to deny you access to your records.

Fawkes-Lee and Ryan will be at the table this upcoming session working diligently to prevent the expansion of the exceptions list.

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