IP addresses are public records

The First Amendment Foundation, the Tallahassee-based non-profit that advocates open government, detailed in its most recent newsletter the most recent victories for the foundation and other advocates of transparency in government. One of those victories involved IP addresses.

The Ninth Judicial Circuit Court ruled the IP addresses of those accessing a Dropbox maintained by Orange County are public records and do not qualify for an exemption as Orange County Mayor Theresa Jacobs claimed.

“We’re very pleased with the court’s decision which confirms, again, that a government agency’s use of communications technology cannot thwart the public’s constitutional right of access to public records,” said Barbara Petersen, the foundation’s president. “This is a victory for common sense and for our ability as citizens to oversee our government and hold it accountable.”

On Sept. 15, 2014, Organize Now Director Stephanie Porta requested a “copy of the history contained in the Events tab of any Dropbox account viewed or accessed by Mayor Theresa Jacobs or anyone working under her immediate direction and control during the time period between Jan. 4, 2011, and Sept. 13, 2014.” This request was a part of a series of public records requested by Porta with the assistance of the First Amendment Foundation.

On Sept. 19, 2014, Orange County’s attorney’s office sent Porta a CD with the requested activity log. The IP addresses, however, had been redacted from the log “pursuant to Florida Statutes 282.318 and 501.171.”

Orange County asserted that releasing the IP addresses would constitute a security threat because IP addresses identify the specific computers and other electronic devices used to access the County’s Dropbox.

Andrea Mogensen, a Sarasota attorney representing Organize Now, argued the IP addresses are not exempt from disclosure under Florida’s public records laws. Judge Robert J. Egan agreed and ordered the release of the IP addresses.The county has until December 24 to appeal the decision or release the records.