IBJOpinion

LANOSGA: And you thought the feds were secretive

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

LanosgaGovernment secrecy is big news these days. Recent stories have revealed confidential federal programs to collect massive amounts of data from cell phone and Internet companies. What’s more, the programs were authorized by secret orders of a secret court. The only reason we know about these things that government is doing in our name—and with our money—is that information was leaked to journalists.

The revelations have spawned a million commentaries, and there’s no need for me to add to them. But one thing has been echoing in my head lately, a comment a local political activist recently made.

“Some of the most secret governments are on the local level,” he told me.

That might be a bit over the top considering the creepy Orwellian stuff we know about the feds, but it’s worth stopping to think about the things state and local governments are keeping from you. They are legion and often perfectly legal, thanks to Indiana’s expansive restrictions on information.

As I’ve mentioned before, the state’s Access to Public Records Act contains numerous exceptions to public disclosure. There are 13 categories of explicitly confidential records and another 24 categories for which public officials are given discretion to withhold.

Here’s a fun challenge: Can you guess how often officials choose to release these discretionary records? I’ll buy coffee for anyone who can show me an example.

The access law, by the way, is not the final word on secret records. The law’s first two exceptions are broad catchalls for any records declared confidential by statute or agency rule. Naturally, there are a multitude of such declarations.

Now, it should be said that many of these categories of confidential records make sense. Reasonable people understand there is some information that shouldn’t be released—Social Security numbers, blueprints of government buildings and scoring keys for licensing exams come to mind.

The concern with these restrictions, though, is that they are so broad and sometimes so poorly defined that they allow government agencies to withhold far more information than is reasonable under common-sense notions.

An example: the “discretionary” exception for law enforcement investigatory records. No one would argue the public should be able to see a list of confidential informants or detectives’ notes in open cases. But what about closed cases? Do investigatory records ever stop being investigatory? The law doesn’t say.

In practice, agencies have interpreted this exception as mandatory and have used it to withhold a huge swath of information. Just last month, the Indianapolis Fire Department tried to withhold routine inspection reports on businesses in the Belmont Street fire, citing the investigatory exception.

Incidentally, Indiana law enforcement agencies, like federal agencies, are authorized to hide information regarding investigations relating to sensitive criminal matters, including terrorism. A new law, in fact, allows them to refuse to even acknowledge the existence of such records.

And did you know that, by rule, Indiana courts can have cases that are completely shielded from public disclosure? Such cases wouldn’t even show up in a computer search of a court’s active caseload.

Does all this make you wonder what government agencies are up to here in Indiana? It should, and that’s a healthy impulse—an instinct of suspicion toward the exercise of hidden power that predates the republic. The political philosopher Gunter Grass said, “The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.”

It’s a good idea to keep your eyes open as well.•

__________

Lanosga is an assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University and president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Uh, sorry Johnnie, but you are incorrect. Despite the assertions by yourself and various defenders and captains, sports attendance is NOT off significantly at most sporting events in the US. Variances in attendance has been in the range of single digits, both + & - for years now. MLB has had most of its best overall attendance nubers in the last decade, and that trend has been consistent for most major sporting events. The number one issue cited by most fans when asked about attendance is the overall cost of attending. The presence of HD and big screen televisions in home doesn't even register, as a factor for not attending an event. VALUE in the product is the key, and apparently is something lacking in the current ICS. What other explanation is there when with what is routinely touted as the "best" racing on the planet, fans are staying away in DROVES. A "close" title battle into the last event at Fontana, with the "cars and stars" of the ICS, and who showed up? MAYBE 8K. Sorry, but HD TV isn't to blame for that kind of fan apathy.

  2. Do you need finance to establish your business ? Are you interested in getting a loan at 3% from our private company? If so please Email: suntrust_oil@blumail.org

  3. If she was worth the $ the public outcry over direct tv dropping them would have kept them on their dishes as we have seen with other companies. I too quit watching channel 13 after she showed up since I left channel 8 because of her all show rather than production results. When Randy on 8 corrected her she had a big head and incorrectly challenged his correction for pronunciation of a city. Other antics while she matures was too much for me with her very inaccurate forecasts. All the forecasters were predicting rain until Thursday except Chris. They predicted sunny on Thursday but instead of rain until Thursday upon which the sun would finally make it out in full glory Chris was right on the money just as I too predicted looking at the radar on weather.gov. One thing I love about Angela is the fear you can see in her every time it thunders in the winter. It far exceeds the entertainment value of her body language (high heel noise drags, depression, etc) when her forecasts are so incorrect. Her hair stands on end, you have to see it!!!

  4. Good Day, Apply For A Loan I am Mr Fernadez Antonio, a private Loan lender and a cooperate financial for real estate and any kinds of business financing. I also offer Loans to individuals, Firms and cooperate bodies at 3% interest rate We offer any kind of loans. email us via fernadezloaninvest@outlook.com LOAN APPLICATION FORM First name:......................... Middle name:......................... Last name:........................................ Date of birth (yyyy-mm-dd):....................... Gender:........................................... Marital status:................................... Total Amount Needed............................... Loan Duration.................................... Address:.......................................... City:............................................. State/province:................................... Zip/postal code:.................................. Country:.......................................... Phone:............................................ Fax:.............................................. Mobile/cellular:.................................. Monthly Income.................................... Occupation:....................................... Best Regard, Mr Fernadez Antonio.

  5. i will love to share my testimony to you all the people in world i got married to my husband about 2 year ago we start having problems at home like we stop sleeping on the same bed,fighting about little things he always comes home late at night,drinking too much and sleeping with other women out side i have never love any man in my life except him. he is the father of my child and i don't want to loose him because we have worked so hard together to become what we are and have today .few month ago he now decided to live me and the kid,being a single mother can be hard sometimes and so i have nobody to turn to and i was heart broken.i called my mom and explain every thing to her,my mother told me about DR.okoro how he helped her solve the problem between her and my dad i was surprise about it because they have been without each other for three and a half years and it was like a miracle how they came back to each other. i was directed to DR. okoro on his email:okorospell@gmail.com and explain everything to him,so he promise me not to worry that he will cast a spell and make things come back to how we where so much in love again and that it was another female spirit that was controlling my husband he told me that my problem will be solved within two days if i believe i said OK So he cast a spell for me and after two days my love came back asking me to forgive him i Am so happy now. so that why i decided to share my experience with every body that have such problem contact Dr okoro the great spell caster on his email addresses spellcasterforlove@outlook.com

ADVERTISEMENT