Google participating in censorship at expense of freedom of the press?

courtrulecitysalaryj-1.jpg Well the fur is flying in far east LA again. This time it is in the nether regions of Claremont where all the brouhaha is boiling up. Why should you care? Because the City of Claremont has bullied Google into deleting items in a post of the Claremont Insider blog they host. This was done as reported FCBlog over a dispute regarding a court ruling that says salary information of public officials is public information. (Bravo to FCBlog for breaking this to a larger audience in the SGV).

The case was first reported in the San Gabriel Valley Times on 8/28/07. (The link to it is dead, but the nifty graphic from the online article is what got the ball rolling). The article is based on a ruling from the California Supreme Court S134253 found here. Bear with me as it is relevant to what happened. Short version is after a series of court cases the issue of whether previously available salary records can now be withdrawn from public review was determined. They opined in the end it is public information and we had a right to it. “Openness in government is essential to the functioning of democracy,” Chief Justice Ronald George wrote for the court. “The public has a strong, well- established interest in the amount of salary paid to public employees.”
(more after the jump)

What happened in this situation is that the Claremont Insider published the pay stubs absent some information as part of the long ongoing practice of exposing what they believed to be mishandling of public money and other concerns of wrong doing at the expense of the citizens. They obtained the information posted from the cities own web site which is open for review by anyone. The posted without the information that would lead to possible identity theft. (My understanding is that information is now withdrawn from the city website).

The City of Claremont allegedly made no effort according to the blog to contact them with any concerns of the article they posted over Labor Day. They contacted the host, Google who in turn deleted the offending material and notified the blog owners after the fact. Google claims that it was removed due to copyright infringement.

Why is this relevant? In looking at this for its face value it would appear that freedom of the press, a blog writer is reporting relevant factual information obtained directly from the city, yet their reporting is being stymied and censored by local government. Google allegedly participated in this reduction without discussing with the blog owner. The blog owner allegedly isn’t privy to the document exchange that lead google to the decision it made. Its been cited that they can’t release due to possible civil action against them by Claremont. Any legal eagles out there want to step into this fracas and ensure that the freedoms of the press are being protected? All of us out here blogging and reporting would like to count on some protections and defenses.

8 Replies to “Google participating in censorship at expense of freedom of the press?”

  1. This country is becoming scarier all the time. Of course the government doesn’t want us to have actual salary figures. With the actual information the financial minded could pretty quickly estimate how much an employee would cost the taxpayer over his lifetime. The feds bury the info, the states bury the info and the locals do it too. Welcome to our new world people, we will be told to cough up more and more, and our government paid employees will be sucking it right off. I am scared for my children, why does it feel like no one else is?

  2. This is standard procedure under the DMCA. Once it gets the complaint, Google must remove the content. I’d have to go back and check the rules regarding if they have to notify the person who posted the info. If Google didn’t remove the content after receiving the complaint, they might open themselves to major liability.

    There are things that can be done, but I don’t know them off the top of my head. I even think there can be a counter complaint if the copyright claim is bogus. But anything like that needs a knowledgeable lawyer.

    BTW, yea this all sucks, but it’s the way it is ever since the RIAA and MPAA convinced Congress to criminalize file trading. This is just fallout.

  3. Teresa – I’m confused a little by your comment. Are you implying that federal government salaries are being hidden? Or are you speaking of the salaries of specific individuals.

    I’m a federal employee, and it’s pretty easy to figure out what I make for a living. One of my contract employees did it in about 30 seconds this afternoon. Just a quick search for ‘federal pay scale’, and an awareness of what ‘grade’ (rank) I am, and some thinking about how long I’ve been working for the government at that rank, and you’ve know exactly how much I make.

    Now, do I think it should be as transparent as – ‘David from San Diego makes $x’? Not really. I’d at least like to make you work to figure out my salary. It’s a fine line between ‘no one else’s business’ and full government disclosure, though.

  4. David, I work as a contractor at a public agency and remember when a co-worker made the LA Times (along with 9 others) in a report on overtime pay. Wouldn’t you agree that a general pay schedule isn’t enough to ferret out something like misuse of overtime? It really does has to get down to ‘David from San Diego made $x’.

    (In this case, it wasn’t misuse of overtime. They wound up making this co-worker a manager and now they can get 60-hr weeks out of her on a 40-hr monthly salary.)

    So it’s something you have to accept if you go to work for the government.

  5. Time for these anonyblogs to purchase their own domain names, hosts and wordpress!

    Really, its not that expensive and a helluva lot less of a headache so that Google can’t immediately go in and delete your stuff.

  6. Be Good – I don’t know, it’s a fine line. I guess I’m one of those honest gov’t workers – I work my 40 hours (sometimes a couple of hours more), but I don’t put in for overtime. My organization doesn’t really allow it.

    There are two other types though. Those that say they put in 40 (and work a less), and those that put themselves down for every 15 minutes they work over – and they magically always seem to work over.

    It really takes better oversight, more honest people, and a lot more checks and balances to make sure things aren’t abused. I can’t put down for ‘comp time’ (i.e., I get 2 hours off if I work 2 hours over, instead of getting paid overtime) without writing a justification, having my supervisor approve it, and having his supervisor also approving it.

    I agree that just knowing the general schedule isn’t enough to ferret out the abuse, though.

  7. Sorry but proof reading isn’t my forte to start with, it only gets worse with maltrex hangovers and trying to read around html. Care to take over that task?

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