Hawaii is under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit which will side with Hawaii.
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii officials have repeatedly pointed to a low-level state employee and a breakdown in his agency’s leadership as the main cause for a January missile alert that left hundreds of thousands of islanders thinking they might die in a nuclear blast. But efforts to find out more about what other top officials did that day have been stymied at the highest levels of state government.
Hawaii law says opening the government to public scrutiny “is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public’s interest.”
But for nearly two months, Gov. David Ige’s office has refused to provide information requested by The Associated Press that could show how he and other officials handled the crisis.
Citing open records law exemptions, Ige’s office has declined to release phone logs, text messages, instant messages and calendars related to the missile alert, even as the state moves forward with recommendations to implement a new missile alert system .
His office says it does not keep those documents.
“We are not aware of any state agency that maintains the governor’s office cell/office phone records, instant messages or text messages,” Ige’s Senior Special Assistant Donna Fujimoto-Saka said in an email.
She also said Ige’s office receives bills from the phone company, “but these bills do not contain any record of incoming or outgoing calls.”
R. Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest in Honolulu, says the governor’s office is not being consistent with the spirit of Hawaii’s open records law.
“There is ultimately a fear amongst many public officials of revealing any information, and so if they have the authority anywhere to withhold it, they will,” he said.
The law center, which advocates for open government in Hawaii, had hoped Ige’s administration would set a “top-down approach” to promoting transparency, Black said.
“They have done things in that regard, but this is not a great example,” he said.
The AP sent a similar request for emails, phone logs and text messages to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the department that sent the alert, on Feb. 5. It has not yet received any documents from the agency.
Hawaii isn’t alone in its handling of records for cellphones, text messages and other modern forms of communication.
Accessing such documents is a problem “across all levels of government” in the United States, in part because many agencies lack policies and practices for storing, archiving and searching them, said Adam Marshall, Knight Foundation litigation attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press based in Washington.
“That can be really problematic, especially when they show what the government officials are doing in their official capacity,” Marshall said.
Ige’s office has agreed to release some documents requested by the AP, primarily emails that are subject to redaction, but has levied hefty fees to process them. An initial estimate of nearly $4,500 was given to fill a request for emails to and from the governor’s staff on the day of the alert. A narrowed request for four senior staff members’ emails was met with a roughly $1,500 fee.