Monday, November 22, 2021

Kansas state officials hid public information at private firm's request; it's part of a national trend against transparency

The Kansas state government hid large parts of an audit to please a private company. The audit, which cost taxpayers $100,000, "was meant to watchdog about $160 million in prescription drug spending on state employees, though experts say it came nowhere near achieving that, despite its hefty price tag," Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports for KCUR in Kansas City. "Kansas bowed to the auditor’s wishes for secrecy, even though an attorney for the state couldn’t find anything in the report that qualified for protection from public view."

The incident is part of a larger trend: "In Oregon, a city is hiding from a newspaper how much of the region’s precious water Google uses to cool its servers — claiming it’s a Google trade secret. A Utah county refused to show a disability rights center its jail manuals for things such as hygiene and medical care — because the author had copyrighted them," Llopis-Jepsen reports for the NPR affiliate. "Virginia pre-emptively promised Amazon it would redact as much as it could get away with if any citizens asked for public records involving the company — to please the retail behemoth."

State and local governments regularly duck transparency laws by citing private companies' intellectual property rights. "And in the case of Kansas, it effectively outsources the redaction process to private companies that don’t work for the public, that don’t have any legal obligation to follow open records law and that can’t be hauled before a judge for breaking it," Llopis-Jepsen reports.

Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, told Llopis-Jepsen he worries that governments are increasingly allowing businesses control what the public can see: "This is not a Kansas problem. It’s not an Oregon problem . . . It’s an everywhere problem."

No comments: