Thursday, January 05, 2012

Connecticut State Watchdog Softens Position On UConn Open Records

"Freedom Of Information Commission's Shift Surprises Supreme Court Justices Connecticut's open records watchdog unexpectedly softened its position Monday during arguments before the state Supreme Court about whether the University of Connecticut can treat databases it creates as trade secrets and deny the information to the public.

The case grew out of political consultant Jonathan Pelto's request for lists of people who bought tickets to UConn sporting or cultural events, donated to its library or inquired about continuing education programs. Pelto said he wanted to use the data to generate support for an independent organization that would advocate for the state university system.

UConn denied Pelto's request, claiming that the data amounted to "customer lists." Under state law, customer lists have "independent economic value" because they are not generally available and are protected by whoever controls them. Customer lists are considered trade secrets under state law and, UConn argues, exempt from disclosure to the public.

Pelto asked the Freedom of Information Commission in April 2008 to compel UConn to give him the data. Apparently, even the commission was divided over the question. When the commission finally ordered disclosure of the material to Pelto in May 2009, it did so by overruling an earlier decision by a hearing officer.

UConn successfully appealed the commission's final order to Superior Court, which agreed with the university. The commission then appealed to the Supreme Court.

In its written brief, filed with the Supreme Court, the commission argued that UConn, as a publicly subsidized institution, is not entitled to maintain trade secrets."

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