Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley continues to promulgate the belief that it’s a violation of Florida’s public record laws to release the IP address of a person making an anonymous record request.
It’s simply not true. The law states that local government can’t require a person to give their name when making a request.
Any written request is itself a public record, unsigned or signed. The IP address is part of the public record, just as the return address on an envelope.
County Attorney Alison Rogers verified this with the Florida Attorney General. She told NorthEscambia.com: “Under Florida law, a public record must be disclosed unless there is a specific exemption. They found no exemption and advised that it was a public record that must be disclosed.”
However, Gilley refuses to accept the legal opinions, writing in her latest memo on the topic: “IP addresses are unique, and disclosing the IP address of the anonymous citizen in question could ultimately reveal that person’s identity and render them anonymous no more – which could be in violation of the law.”
There is no “could.” Yet, for some odd reason, she wants to continue the myth.
The real problem is Gilley and her staff have incorrectly given the impression on the county’s website they have the power to hide the identity of person making a request.
There are three ways to be anonymous:
1) Use an attorney or a go-between to make the request,
2) Call and have information sent to an email address that hides an identity, or
3) Use a service that uses a series of IP addresses to hide the sender.
Gilley wants to change the language on the website and all county emails. She hasn’t asked for the county’s legal department to sign-off on her suggestions.
New disclaimers Gilley wants:
“What if I want to remain anonymous?” You are not required to provide your name, address, telephone number or the like. To submit a public records request to better ensure anonymity, you will not be able to use the online service or email. You may wish to call Escambia County Administration at (850) 595-4936; or stop by Escambia County Administration, 221 Palafox Place, Suite 420, Pensacola. PLEASE NOTE: Each anonymous request will be provided a reference number necessary for all follow-up inquiries.”
Public Records/FOIA Requests (myescambia.com) (Third Paragraph)
“When making a request, you will not be required to give your name or provide the reason for a request as a condition of fulfilling the request. Your request may be made by phone, letter or email. Under Florida law, email addresses and IP addresses are public records. If you do not want your email address or IP address released in response to a public records request, do not send your request electronically but make your request via phone. You may wish to call Escambia County Administration at (850) 595-4936; or stop by Escambia County Administration, 221 Palafox Place, Suite 420, Pensacola.”
We will also need to change the language that is tagged onto all County emails: (See Below):
Florida has a very broad public records law. Under Florida law, both the content of emails, email addresses and IP addresses are public records. If you do not want the content of your email, your email address, or your IP address released in response to a public records request, do not send electronic mail to this entity. Instead, contact this office by phone or in person.
Questions for Gilley:
How many anonymous public records does the county receive in a month?
Why wasn’t these legal disclaimers not run by the county’s legal department?
What are other county’s doing on this “issue”?
Inweekly would prefer the county administrator address the real issues in her HR department.