Open Secrets

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The Hartford Courant eventually won a court fight to publish the diaries of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, but in the aftermath there is legislation being proposed to limit disclosure.

On Wednesday the legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would expand the items exempt under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Senate Bill 970 would allow law enforcement officials to retain items seized in criminal investigations, including diaries of alleged assailants, without disclosing them to the public.

“Nothing in the proposal prevents law enforcement from making the information public, or from disclosing it to the public upon request if that is advisable,” the state Division of Criminal Justice submitted in unsigned testimony. “The Freedom of Information Act was adopted to provide public access to public documents and records by public agencies, not to allow for an unlimited look at the private property and records.”

The legislation is also supported by the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

But the state Freedom of Information Commission, led by Executive Director and Chief Counsel Colleen Murphy, said the bill is a threat to the state’s tradition of open records.

“The FOI Commission believes, especially in instances where significant public resources were spent on investigations of great public concern, such as the Sandy Hook investigation, the public interest in evidence which informs the investigation, or which may be incorporated by reference into a summary report, should override privacy concerns which might be at issue,” the agency wrote in prepared testimony, stressing that the legislation makes no allowance for such public interest.

“Bill No. 970 would give police unreasonably broad discretion to shield from the public records it now has the right to view,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “This could make it near impossible for Connecticut residents to monitor the activity of police and hold its law enforcement accountable.”

“We oppose SB 970 because it would deny access to records that are crucial for public discourse and transparency,” said Michael Savino, a newspaper editor who is president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. “Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be a justification for this bill beyond a desire to withhold this information from the public.”

The committee’s deadline for action is April 12.

 

 

 

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