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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Critical Ruling in Tennessee

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that local law enforcement agencies are not exempt from the state's open-records law, overturning a lower court ruling that would have allowed them to keep many files from the public's view.

The May 25 ruling was a victory for The Jackson Sun newspaper, which has been seeking law enforcement and other public records since it filed a lawsuit against the city in 2004.

It was a significant ruling in the eyes of many press and open-government advocates.

"The privilege would have given any law enforcement agency in the state a blanket opportunity to withhold any information they wanted," said Rick Hollow, general counsel for the Tennessee Press Association.

In 2004, reporters for the newspaper requested police records of interviews made by officers who stopped pedestrians and motorists based on reasonable suspicions, but never arrested anyone.

The field interviews were recorded by date and time and included only basic information, such as names, addresses, physical descriptions, type of car and sometimes a photograph.

The police department refused to allow the newspaper to see the records, claiming they were helpful for identifying potential suspects and witnesses to crimes in certain areas.

Jackson Sun Publisher Ed Graves said there were some concerns that the police were racially profiling individuals. According to court records, 80% of the people questioned were black

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