Once upon a time, in a land very near and dear, the University of Oregon:
On January 1st, 2011, former Editor-in-Chief CJ Ciaramella emailed a request for ASUO Senators’ email correspondence (i.e., those emails sent to and from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) to Public Records Officer Liz Denecke. As reading this previous post will inform you, Denecke responded via email to CJ’s request saying that in order to fulfill such a request, it would cost him a whopping $428.36– “about half” being used to cover the costs “producing the documents” and “the other half […] for redaction, and that cost is estimated conservatively and will likely cost more than the estimate.” Denecke’s explanation continues, stating that such emails “will be student records, subject to the protection of student privacy laws. That will require a great deal of redaction and you may end up with documents that do not tell you what you want to know.” Denecke would later tell Ciaramella over the phone that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the students in this case, calling for intensive redaction of student names (i.e., the ASUO Senators’ names) and anything unrelated to ASUO business. Hence such expensive estimated compensation for the production of this Public Records Request. Because of this, Ciaramella abandoned the pursuit, deeming it stonewalled.
On October 9, 2012, CJ Ciaramella (now a reporter at the Free Beacon in Washington, D.C.) posted a Tweet directed to the Student Press Law Center (an advocate for student free press rights). He stated, “@SPLC At University of Oregon I once requested emails from the student senate listerv and was told all the names would be redacted per FERPA”. Well, it took a little while, but the SPLC examined the situation and ruled that these senators’ emails are in fact NOT protected by FERPA. SPLC’s fact checking blog points out that in order for a FERPA document to be created, a student must have confidential communication with a university employee. FERPA doesn’t protect emails sent from one student senator to another. As such correspondence is conducted over a public channel (email@example.com), it is public information. And we all lived happily ever after.
I predict that when I re-submit this request, the price for intensive redaction of names and information will be a lot lower– if not nonexistent– and the information garnered all the more exciting.