I was at a meeting yesterday at which I found out about two open records cases that have been appealed to Commonwealth Court.
In one appeal, the governor’s office claims, among other things, that direct dial government phone numbers — in other words, their work numbers — are personal and thus exempt from being released under the Right to Know Law. It also claims that giving out workers’ county of residence would pose a security risk.
In another, the lieutenant governor’s office claims, among other things, that individual email addresses of government workers — the ones given to the workers by the state government — are exempt from release because they are personal identification information.
Because the public’s desire for information about the government it pays for is clearly out of control, I feel like we need to do something to protect state officials and legislators. I have helpfully compiled the top 10 solutions to the problem of the public knowing anything about public officials in state government:
1. Because names are “personal identification information,” all government agency staff listings will henceforth include only the names “John Doe” for males and “Jane Doe” for females.
2. The capitol dome will be covered by a giant version of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, so the public will not be able to see where the legislature and state government employees work.
3. No public officials’ mailing addresses will be given out, as it would be a security risk to do so. Instead, mail to public officials will have to be sent to “(Name/department or office), Harrisburg, Pa.” You will have to trust that it will get there.
4. Candidates’ names will not appear on election ballots, as the release of their names would be a risk to their security.
5. All state government websites will be taken down to avoid the risk that information about state government employees could accidentally make its way to residents.
6. When the governor, lieutenant governor or other prominent state official makes a public appearance or presentation, he or she will do so from behind a barrier so that people can not see his or her face. Faces are personal identification information.
7. Any member of the media who takes or publishes a photograph of the governor, lieutenant governor or other prominent state official will be arrested and charged with invasion of privacy. (The records related to that arrest will not be public.)
8. The governor, lieutenant governor or other prominent state official may give taped or live TV interviews, but their faces and voices — which are personal identification information — must be altered.
9. Biographical information distributed to media for the governor, lieutenant governor and other prominent officials will be limited to the following:
- This person is very experienced at what he/she does, having worked in leadership roles for various private companies and in public service.
- This person is from a town in Pennsylvania.
- This person graduated from college.
- This person looks impressive in a dark blue suit (we cannot provide photos, as that would allow people to personally identify the official).
- This person is very smart.
- This person has accomplished many things in his/her life that will make him/her a good public servant.
10. The state will no longer publish public officials’ phone numbers or email addresses, both of which are personal identification information. To increase the accessibility of public officials to the people they serve, however, the state has created one phone number and one email address people can use to get in touch with their elected representatives or state officials. But because the number and email address are personal identification information for state government itself, they are exempt under the Right to Know Law and will not be released.