Though all of the electoral politics associated with the madness that is Textgate II have effectively been washed away by now – because nobody is accountable in politics after Election Day! – it’s worth remembering that there is still a scandal afoot in the Orange County mayor’s office, and despite its cloudiness, that scandal isn’t blowing away. We’ve written about the alleged Dropbox mishandling by Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ office, and the subsequent redacting of public information requests from Organize Now, here, and here and here. Basically, the suspicion is that county officials, much like they did in 2012, are operating outside of the lines, in this case allowing documents (or documents-in-progress) to be reviewed and even edited by outside sources. YOU KNOW, LIKE THEY DID WHEN TEXTGATE HAPPENED. Only now, everything has become so much more nuanced, despite assurances from the mayor and her circle of wagons that everything from here on out would be absolutely transparent. Guess what. Everything is not transparent.
This morning, Judge Robert J. Egan opened his ears on the 12th floor of the Orange County Courthouse to hear the opposing sides in this latest public records argument, even though doing so meant listening to Internet Technology people attempt to explain in layman’s terms the meaning of Internet Protocol addresses and the importance therein. God, it was a party. Anyway, there were some fairly well-defined takeaways that we’ll highlight here in brief. We’ll hold the big tech enchiladas until we can stew on said takeaways for a future Happytown column. At issue this morning, mostly, was that the county intentionally redacted all of the IP addresses from public records requests filed by Organize Now, the same group that got screwed in Textgate. Why? Because panic, and privacy, and the end of the world, and Ebola, and Benghazi, and we’re all going to die. Oh, and, said the county, a state law that went into effect this year allows the county to go postal on redactions in the interest of security. What if my IP address touches your IP address? It will be anarchy! As promised, here are the things we witnessed during our three hours of beige litigiousness.
* Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs hired her own counsel out of Ft. Lauderdale to try to free of her of any attachment to the Dropbox account she apparently created. Attorney Edward Dion of Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson made a point of asking county IT guy Peter Miller whether he had been handed orders from Jacobs directly to redact the IP addresses from the Organize Now records request. The answer, naturally, was “no.” In fact, it is the county’s policy to redact computer names and IP addresses from all public records requests, even though the plaintiff’s attorney, Andrea Mogensen, pointed out that county attorney William “Chip” Turner’s contention that this is all completely legal via statute is in fact a sign of laziness. State statutes lean toward transparency, typically, she said. In order to employ wholesale redaction, you would have to have a pretty good excuse. And “security,” especially in the framing that Turner was providing (anarchy!), was hardly a viable excuse.
* Both sides had an expert witness on hand to opine. In the county’s case, it was Miller, who looked like a deer in headlights most of the time. Did your boss make you do this? No, she did not, etc. “We’re not trying to hide the ball,” Turner said, answering a complaint that nobody had yet offered. However, Mogensen pointed out, “at least at one point, the mayor was the custodian” of the Dropbox account with the frivolous deletions.
* Then the county representation went a little paranoid apeshit. Miller claimed that Orange County was fighting off “20 to 30 thousand intrusion attempts a day,” attempts that were especially forceful during Occupy Orlando’s weird reign, Food Not Bombs’ feeding of homeless folk controversy and the Casey Anthony trial. Hello, Orlando? These are the reasons we can’t have nice IP addresses. Miller went on to try to personalize the matter by reminding Judge Egan that he, too, has an IP address when he surfs the internet for case history or celebrity gossip.
* There was a lot of talk by Miller – talk that was clearly part of a strategy – that if only Organize Now had come into the county offices and met with Miller, he would have walked them through the records and explained the IP addresses, just not allowing Organize Now to take them home and exploit a local democracy. There’s a bone to be picked here. Basically, the county wiped out all the IP addresses from the records request because “we have literally terabytes of data,” said Miller, which means it would take FOREVER to make sure that the county wasn’t exposing any lobbyists for having access to its Dropbox account, so just let them craft their own narrative, thank you. Mogensen pointed out that Organize Now had already been charged prohibitive fees for the records that approached $1,000; also, the county has to prove why it is exempting certain records, but who cares anymore?
* Organize Now called its own witness, Kevin Ripa from Computer Evidence Recovery Inc., to discuss how wrong the county was about its notion of the sanctity of IP addresses. Everybody on the internet uses an IP address. Dropbox is an external company that encrypts data on its own terms (not the county’s), this is all sort of a joke because Dropbox isn’t very reliable – or at least that seemed like the tone of the expert. Again, why is the county using Dropbox? It’s like the mall of cloud companies, and is extremely vulnerable to attack. Oh, that’s right. To make it convenient for outsiders to look at sensitive documents.
* Lastly, the county is officially trying to “trump” general law, said Mogensen, by insinuating that having IP addresses be public could even compromise HIPPA laws, because that makes all the sense in the world. Mogensen went on to remind the judge and county (and mayoral) counsel that, by law, there have to be “exemptions for each record that was redacted.” The judge requested written statements from each side, saying he needed time to review some of the case history drummed up at the last minute by county counsel. The mayor’s attorney crossed his fingers that she would be dismissed from the case. The county IT guy turned a whiter shade of pale. And the rest of us watched as the county likely got away with yet another example of political hubris via public records denial. In other words, Happy Wednesday.