On Monday the Associated Press wrote that officials in Ferguson, Missouri have been charging exorbitant fees to turn over public records like e-mails and texts from city officials. The informational paywalls come in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, that spurred weeks of protests in the St. Louis suburb.
The AP notes that charging high fees for public records is a tactic that some government agencies use to discourage journalists and activists from discovering unflattering or problematic information. Officials in Ferguson have said that forwarding certain e-mail and text messages requires expensive IT analysis, despite the fact that public records laws in Missouri maintain that public access to government records should be provided at little to no cost.
“Ferguson told the AP it wanted nearly $2,000 to pay a consulting firm for up to 16 hours of work to retrieve messages on its own e-mail system, a practice that information technology experts call unnecessary,” the AP wrote on Monday. “The firm, St. Louis-based Acumen Consulting, wouldn’t comment specifically on Ferguson’s contract, but said the search could be more complicated and require technicians to examine tape backups.”
Ars Technica contacted the City of Ferguson for comment on what kinds of e-mail, text, or backup analysis the city is employing and charging press organizations for. A spokesperson referred Ars to the city’s media consultant, but the consultant has not yet responded to our inquiries.
Written by Megan Geuss
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