Access in brief

Paper appeals after court denies access to crime recordsMICHIGAN -- A student newspaper has filed an appeal after a county circuit court in June denied the newspaper access to a campus police incident report about an assault that took place in February.The State News at Michigan State University filed the appeal in late July along with a motion to expedite proceedings. The newspaper is seeking access to records pertaining to an assault in one of the campus residence halls allegedly involving a handgun. The lawsuit, which was originally filed in May, came after the university denied two separate Freedom of Information Act requests the paper had filed.Herschel Fink, attorney for The State News, said he expects the case to be heard this fall.''Hopefully things will move quickly, and hopefully the court of appeals will understand just how off base this [circuit court] judge was and how wrong the university is, because this has implications far beyond the student press,'' Fink said. ''This judge made a ruling saying that citizens aren't entitled to know about crime in their communities.''University spokesman Terry Denbow said the ruling was a demonstration of the court's commitment to protecting student's privacy rights. The circuit court judge ruled to deny the newspaper access to the report because she said those involved in the case were private individuals and the information recorded was of a personal nature.State News Editor in Chief Nick Mrozowski said in June that crime records still should not be private.''I don't think that crime is a private thing,'' Mrozowski said. ''I think when there is crime on campus, I don't see how that's not a public event and something that the public has more than just an interest in, but a stake in, because it's something that affects them.'' FOI request reveals Pentagon surveillance of studentsCALIFORNIA -- A Freedom of Information Act request has led to a ''trickle of documents'' that are revealing acts of government surveillance on student anti-war protestors at two California universities.The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California first filed the FOI request in February after some students from the Universities of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz learned from an NBC News report that their anti-war protests had landed them on a government terrorist watch list. Mark Schlosberg, police practices policy director with the ACLU of Northern California, said the organization so far has received about 150 pages of documents pertaining to the California students and the terrorist database.Schlosberg said the ACLU of Northern California had requested expedited processing on the FOI request, which would have required the documents to be delivered quickly, but the Department of Defense denied the request. However, a judge ruled May 25 to require expedited processing after the ACLU challenged the Department's decision in federal district court. ''I think it strikes a chord of concern about the blurring between protest acts and terrorism,'' Schlosberg said. ''This was a terrorist database -- the Department of Defense has referred to it as a terrorist database. A protest act, including acts of civil disobedience, is not terrorism. We are very concerned about the blurring of that distinction and the threat it imposes to people's privacy and free speech rights.''Schlosberg said the ACLU of Northern California may follow up with similar FOI requests to other government organizations, but for now, they are waiting for all the information to trickle in. New law allows foundations to keep some donor information privateIOWA -- A new law in Iowa will allow those who donate to colleges and universities in the state to keep some of their financial information confidential.The law, which was signed by Gov. Tom Vilsack on May 24, came after a state Supreme Court ruling the year before that ordered the Iowa State University Foundation to release donor records. Now, journalists and other members of the public will not be able to access records that disclose a donor's ''personal, financial, estate planning or gift planning matters,'' deal with a donor's ''prospective'' pledge or address the ''appropriateness of the solicitation and dollar amount of the gift or pledge.''Individual donors also may keep their names private upon request, but the law requires the names of publicly traded corporations that make donations to be released. The law also requires that foundations release the dollar amount of each donation, the date the donation was made and any conditions or restrictions placed on the donation by the donor.Kathleen Richardson, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said the law went into effect July 1.''I am optimistic that there will still be some accountability for the foundations, that the foundations will have to account for their donations and how those donations are used,'' she said. ''But as I said before, since this legislation was just enacted this summer, it remains to be seen in practice how this will work out.''State high court rules part of vice president's letter can remain privateMICHIGAN -- The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in July that a letter pertaining to the construction of a university president's house can in part remain private. The Ann Arbor News in Ann Arbor, Mich., filed the lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University after school officials refused to release a 2003 letter from a university vice president to one of the members of the school's Board of Regents. The newspaper had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the letter, as well as other records, as part of an investigation into the construction cost of the EMU president's university-owned house.EMU officials had said that the construction project cost the school $3.5 million, but a state auditor later found the actual cost to be closer to $6 million, according to an article in The Ann Arbor News.In its July 19 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that EMU must release only parts of the letter deemed purely ''factual'' by a lower court judge. In March 2004, a circuit court judge had ruled that the letter contained more opinion than fact and that protecting the ''frank communication'' between officials ''clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure.'' Case: Herald Co. v. Eastern Michigan Univ. Bd. of Regents, No. 128263, 2006 WL 2022230 (Mich. July 19, 2006)

Fall 2006, reports