SPJ Georgia press release on Secretary of State exemption of open records laws

Secretary of State wrong to cite exemption of open records laws regarding data breach

Dec. 3, 2015
CONTACT: Ellen Eldridge, President, SPJ Georgia
EMAIL: Ellen@EllenEldridge.com

The Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists strongly urges the Secretary of State to release public records involving its massive data breach that occurred last month.

Citing an ongoing investigation, the department refused a valid request to provide details about the release of personal information for 6 million Georgia voters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dr. Carolyn Carlson, a former SPJ national president and Freedom of Information Committee member who teaches journalism at Kennesaw State University, said that the agency is wrong to cite an exemption.

“The open investigation exemption of the Open Records Act only applies to law enforcement, prosecution or regulatory agencies,” she said. “It specifically does not apply to records kept by the agency that is the subject of an investigation.”

The president of SPJ Georgia, Ellen Eldridge, agrees.

“The records the Secretary of State is trying to shield do not fall under this exemption and should be released immediately,” she said.

The department announced on Nov. 19 that it had distributed CDs with 6.2 million voters–including social security numbers, birth dates, driver’s license numbers and phone numbers. The press release did not identify which organizations received the information. The receiving groups included political parties, voting organizations and GeorgiaGunOwner Magazine, according to the AJC.

The Georgia SPJ calls for a quick release of the requested documents.

“The state legislature passed public records laws for a case like this,” Eldridge said. “Georgians deserve to understand how the Secretary of State made and handled such a big mistake, especially since so many people are involved.”

The Georgia SPJ is a state-wide branch of the national Society of Professional Journalists, an organization that promotes freedom of information and high standards of ethics for reporters and editors around the world. For more information, go to http://www.spjgeorgia.com.

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