Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed AB1819 into law. This bill will require agencies subject to the California Public Records Act to allow requesters to photograph records at no charge during inspection. Although it originally would have required agencies to allow the use of portable scanners, a late amendment only requires the use of copying equipment which does not touch the record.
The law also allows agencies to forbid the use of equipment which “would result in … [u]nauthorized access to the agency’s computer systems or secured networks by using software, equipment, or any other technology capable of accessing, altering, or compromising the agency’s electronic records.” On the one hand there’s no reason to include a clause like this unless the law is meant to apply to electronic records as well as physical records. This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that an early amendment limited the law’s application to “physical records” but then that was removed in later versions.
But there will be a lot of resistance to allowing requesters to make electronic copies and it will probably take litigation to sort this out. In any case, reaction to this law seems to be divided between people who see the value immediately and others who cannot imagine that agencies would forbid people to take pictures of things with their phone. But they will. And do. So I thought I’d close out this announcement with a couple of stories about it.
First, of course, is the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and their lunatic rogue Kommandante Gerry Sanchez, head kingpin of their Los Angeles Metro Office. Once upon a time he got all pissy with me because I wouldn’t show him my driver’s license as a precondition to inspecting records and then, for revenge, he and ABC’s unethical weirdo of a general counsel, Robert De Ruyter, cooked up a bogus scheme about how the entire inside of every ABC office was “a secure area” and photography wasn’t allowed for “security” reasons.
The fact that I took dozens of photographs inside their offices at all times didn’t seem to bother them as long as I wasn’t taking pictures of records. So this morning, when I learned that this law had been signed, I immediately emailed De Ruyter, giving him notice that I would be in to the Metro office in January 2020 to look at and photograph every record that they wouldn’t let me take pictures of since December 2018. And for good measure I requested a bunch of new stuff that I’ve been holding off on asking for while I waited to learn the fate of this bill.
And then, totally coincidentally, I got an email from Carolyn Lemus of the City’s General Services Division telling me that the goods were ready and announcing that I had to pay them $58 and change if I wanted copies.1 So I wrote back and told her I would be in to inspect and to take photographs. I always say this anyway, because I believe, and most agencies actually agree with me, that the law already requires this. But I was also baiting her just a little because the law did just pass, so why not?
And she bit, and bit hard. Her response, pretty passive aggressive although not as passive aggressive as these folks get, said no, you cannot take photos of the records. And I wrote back and said that yes, I can. So I’ll go in next week, and I’m guessing she’ll have talked to the City Attorney by then and probably she’ll let me take pictures, because that seems to be the standard advice of Frank Mateljan, who’s some kind of CPRA supervisor under Mike Feuer. But if they don’t, well, now I don’t have to sue them yet again, at least not over this. I can wait until January 2020 and try again.2 And that, if anyone is still wondering why we so badly needed this law, is that!
- The goods in this case are contracts between the City of Los Angeles and some third party supplier of facial recognition technology to the LAPD. This will probably be interesting when I ultimately get it, although of course there’s no way to be sure. It’s more than 580 pages, most of which is almost certainly hundreds of pages of the boilerplate that’s required to be included in every contract with the City. They will happily charge you ten cents a page for any amount of this crap. They often make multiple copies of it just to mess with people. That’s one of many reasons why it’s essential to inspect before agreeing to pay anything.
- It seems like a long time, but over the last five years CPRA work has taught me to be very, very patient and also to ask for a lot of stuff. If this batch of records is going to take 18 months, well, that one, that I asked for 18 months ago, is coming in and full of secrets!