Privacy SOS

Massachusetts state police take dodging public records requests to strange new low

The Massachusetts state public records law is among the weakest in the nation. But even the toothless statute doesn't allow for flagrantly improper behavior like this, via the Bay State Examiner:

In an unusual move, the Massachusetts State Police have asked The Bay State Examiner pay a fee before they will tell us what another fee is, a decision which we are fighting.

After we requested copies of the internal affairs files for 49 state troopers, Jaclyn Zawada, an attorney with the State Police, said that producing a fee estimate for the public records request as required by law was so burdensome that they would need to be paid a “non-refundable research fee” of $710.50 first.

Zawada said it would take the State Police approximately 24 and a half hours to determine what the fee for the records should be. She said if it takes longer, the State Police may charge even more money for the “research fee.”

As the Examiner observes, our state public records statute doesn't allow agencies to charge requesters fees to determine how much to charge to ultimately satisfy the request. This is outrageous behavior.

But it is a continuation of a theme: Massachusetts got an 'F' in transparency from the Sunlight Foundation in 2013. Before today it was hard to imagine things could get much worse, but human beings are innovative.

Take action to update public records law to ensure things like this don't keep happening. Government transparency is a requirement in a democracy, not an option.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.