WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Governments Suing People Who Seek Public Information

Oct 3, 2017

The Associated Press reported that government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who seek public records that might be embarrassing or legally sensitive. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of school districts, municipalities, and state agencies have filed lawsuits against people making the requests.

Shop Talk panelist Rich Egger considers the tactic a form of intimidation.  He said some governments already do a good amount of foot-dragging on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or they charge staggering amounts of money to look up records even though that should be considered a normal part of the job.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton said the tactic could have a chilling effect on anyone seeking public information. She pointed out FOIA is not just for journalists – it’s for all citizens. And those citizens might decide against seeking public information if they fear the matter might result in costly litigation.

Crighton and panelist Will Buss are encouraged that some judges have quickly thrown out such lawsuits.

Buss said there is a long history of governments pushing back against people filing FOIA requests but he finds it disconcerting to know some local governments are choosing to go to court over it.  He thinks governments are doing this because they think they can get away with it.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.