FAC leads amicus filing in case seeking access to records in hands of private firms that contract with government

An open-government coalition led by FAC has filed an amicus brief in a California freedom-of-information case involving access to data of government contractors that the contractors are required, under their agreements wth local government, to create and maintain.

In Flynn v. Los Angeles a PRA requester seeks information in databases about the towing and storing of cars parked illegally on LA streets. The towing and storing is handled by private firms under contracts with the city. The firms generate and store data for each towing. The agreements between the firms and the city require the creation of the data and guarantee LA’s access to the data.

The Superior Court ruled that the data weren’t “public records”  because LA does not exercise ownership and control over the records through their physical possession. That decision has been appealed to the Court of Appeal (second district). FAC’s amicus brief urges that court to accept the case for full consideration, including briefing and oral argument.

The amicus brief was written by Paul Boylan, an attorney in Davis, CA , who often represents news organizations and other requesters in PRA litigation. The amici, in addition to FAC, are: Californians Aware,  the Sacramento Valley Mirror, the Lake County News, the People’s Vanguard of Davis, the Woodland Record and Lion Publishing.

The brief argues that the Superior Court’s  “focus on physical possession is a non-sequitur when applied to electronically created data stored on a third party’s server.”  Under the Superior Court’s reasoning, the brief contends, “government agencies will be free to convert public records into private corporate records by the simple expedient of locating records off-site or changing a few words in the agencies’ contracts with private entities.”

The amicus brief is available here.