Monday, January 3, 2011

Man who attended meeting can't get recording of it because group was promised confidentiality

A man who attended a community focus group whose members had been promised anonymity by university researchers does not have a right of access to audio, video or other recordings of the meeting, the state attorney general's office ruled in an open-records decision dated Dec. 22 and released today.

"Records that are available to one are generally available to all," and Mark Donham of Paducah "stands in the same shoes as any other open-records requester, notwithstanding his presence at the sesssions," said the decision, written by Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver for Attorney General Jack Conway. It agreed with the University of Kentucky that "There is no way to provide the recording without both identifying the participants and the statements they made under this explicit promise of confidentiality" from the Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and the Environment, comprising a group of UK researchers.

The promise is a standard one involving university research involving human subjects. In an earlier decision, the attorney general ruled that UK researchers improperly refused to allow Donham to keep material that had been handed out at the session in Paducah. It said the university was correct in refusing a records request for names of participants but did not have the right to insist on return of "visualizations" given out at a subsequent session. The consortium has been studying possible uses for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which enriches uranium under a federal contract. Donham had refused to return a computerized visualization of the site as a nuclear power plant, one of the uses being considered. After an argument, university representatives threatened to call the police. Donham returned the material then filed an open-records request and appeal.

In his latest appeal, Donham said he didn't ask for names of all participants, just the "advisory board members for the study." The attorney general said those members had also been promised confidentiality. It did fault the university for not providing Donham a copy of its final argument during the last appeal, which Donham said inaccurately chacterized his actions at the meeting. He argued that the recordings would prove him correct, but the attorney general said, "However compelling his personal need to the recordings may be, we focus on his legal entitlement to the recordings or lack thereof."

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