Massachusetts Superior Court: Possibility of Puzzling Together PII Doesn't Bar Release of Crimin
Last month, Judge Rosemary Connolly issued a decision, Healy v. Cruz, No. SUCV2016-03619, 2018 Mass. Super. LEXIS 485 (Mass. Super. Ct. Nov. 15, 2018), granting the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Commonwealth Attorney General sought an order to force the Defendants to meet the Boston Globe's request for information from the district attorney offices' DAIMON case management databases. Judge Connolly ruled that there was a false choice between the privacy rights of accused individuals named in the case management system and the public's right to the information.
The Boston Globe requested that data from 22 fields be exported to a spreadsheet. Three different district attorney offices objected on different bases: 1. attorney client privilege 2. the information was exempt from disclosure on the basis of a statute 3. it would be necessary to create a new record by compiling multiple records. 4. complying with the request would divert office resources and disrupt daily operations.
Massachusetts law requires record keepers to make public records available for inspection. The law specifies that there is a presumption that records are public unless an exemption applies. The Defendants claimed that exemptions apply as provided by statute; for intra-agency memoranda discussing policy; and for investigatory materials that if disclosed would impede law enforcement. The Criminal Offender Records Information (CORI) restricts the disclosure of a person's criminal history. The case concerns whether the public records law or CORI should govern. Judge Connolly did not view the laws as being in opposition and instead harmonized them so that the goal of each could be achieved.
The Court found the record requests do not fall under CORI because they apply only to data showing an identifiable individual. "Arguably, given all of the requested categories of information, one might be able to puzzle together a history for a particular individual. But it is also true that all but, perhaps the ADA's case disposition recommendation and defendant's ID number, are the types of information any member of the public could access by attending a court session, or reviewing a docket or court file in the clerk's office. The only difference in this instance is that the requestor is seeking the data from DAMION instead of from various public sources to obtain the same information." Id. at *24. The Defendants' argument that the breadth of the requested information could be used to identify specific individuals was rejected. ". . .the fact that individually identifying information could be discovered by someone requesting the same information does not convert the information requested in this case to CORI" Id. at *32.
Judge Connolly also found that the requested records can be obtained under an exemption to CORI for public court proceedings. She rejected the contention that the records fell under the work product exemption to the public records law. Judge Connolly disagreed that the request would require the creation of a new record merely because a query would have to be run for data and exported to a spreadsheet. Finally she rejected the Defendants' argument that the Trial Court Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records provision which refers to copying part of the case management databases as being burdensome to court personnel applies. These rules also allow for the bulk export of data to meet the requirements of law.