The COVID-19 crisis led to public information shutdowns across the country, making it harder than ever to get reliable information about what our government institutions are doing in our name.
That’s why we have repeatedly called on public agencies to fulfill their obligations under freedom of information laws, despite the pandemic’s challenges. And it’s why we are now asking the California Supreme Court to take up a case about our right to access pandemic-related data being collected across the state.
We are urging our state’s highest court to grant review in a public records case brought by a coalition of San Diego news organizations to force the disclosure of detailed data about COVID-19 outbreaks in the community. This data, which is collected and reported by a large number of employers, is key to understanding how the pandemic has and continues to affect the health and safety of workers at plants, grocery stores, offices and more.
This information has been far too hard to access. A recent investigation by the Mercury News revealed that only one-third of the state’s 58 counties initially produced records with the locations of workplace outbreaks in response to public records requests. Still, the data reporters received demonstrated the vital public interest in having access to this information.
FAC’s own open-government advocacy took us to Ventura County, where officials refused to give us detailed outbreak location data until we filed a lawsuit, which is pending. In the California Public Records Act case brought by the San Diego news organizations, the lower courts have endorsed an unacceptable level of government secrecy. In our view, those courts gave too much deference to a local official’s unsubstantiated concerns that public disclosure of this information is not in the public interest.
When government officials block access to this information, communities are deprived of facts relevant to their health and safety. By supporting the San Diego news organizations’ petition for Supreme Court review, we are hoping the justices take the opportunity to “remind public agencies that the right of access to information is a matter of law, not whim or unsubstantiated hunch.”
Read our full letter to the California Supreme Court. And find more about the case here.
Thank you, as always, for your interest in our work.
P.S. Did you hear? We launched our first-ever $1 million campaign — the FAC for All campaign. We’re already 80% of the way to our goal, thanks to gifts and pledges from our community of supporters! Will you help us meet the growing need to defend free speech, a free press and your right to know? Give today.