By G.W. Schulz
As we’ve reported online, federal Judge Susan Illston has largely ruled in favor of the Guardian and Media Alliance and has opened several documents originally filed under seal in Clint Reilly’s civil suit alleging that the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group are conspiring to monopolize the Bay Area’s newspaper market. A Santa Clara County judge ruled against one of Silicone Valley's biggest public companies last week and opened up court records to the press and public in a shareholder suit alleging problems with backdated stock options to top executives.
But coincidentally, Illston ruled in yet another open-records case recently that the feds have to pay Stanford’s Cyberlaw Clinic $67,000 to cover legal fees regarding its court-based effort to obtain records of the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT system.
The US-VISIT system was created after September 11 to closer regulate who’s entering and leaving the United States. Wired magazine joined a year-long effort with the Cyberlaw Clinic. Homeland security officials tried everything from losing the paperwork to denying the request entirely before Illston ruled that records detailing failures in the US-VISIT system must be opened. FOIA actions taken to court allow for the prevailing party to seek attorneys' fees.
From Illston’s decision:
“While the court found that defendant had properly withheld certain information, the court also held that defendant improperly invoked the law-enforcement exemption as a basis for withholding numerous documents. The court further held that defendant broadly withheld descriptive information regarding the scope of the computer failure, without ever explaining how the disclosure of such information would render the [Customs and Border Protection] system vulnerable to attack. Finally, the court noted that in many instances, defendant’s redaction of material was inconsistent and seemingly without any reasoned basis.”
Unfortunately, Illston can’t step in every time the feds anoint themselves demigods.