May 18, 2016 – Bruce Ritchie and Daniel Ducassi
Jennifer Hecker of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida says that when her group tried to find out in 2014 whether fracking had occurred at oil wells in Collier County, she discovered the company had marked nearly all of the documents that it submitted to the state as “trade secret” to exempt them from disclosure to the public under state law.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida sought similar protections when it asked a federal court to block the release of information from a deposition by the Seminole Gaming CEO about the tribe’s revenue. POLITICO published the story last week, leading the tribe to drop its request.
The debate over keeping trade secrets and other business information from the public isn’t new, but the subject has attracted increased attention in recent years. As lawmakers have moved to expand public records exemptions for certain types of business information, some policy advocates say the changes threaten the public’s ability to monitor government and decisions that affect their lives.
During the legislative session that ended in March, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill that expands the definition of trade secrets to include “financial information” — without defining what that includes.
….Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation of Florida, said the trade secrets exemption is a growing challenge to Florida’s broad public information law because it is often applied incorrectly and the Legislature has shown itself inclined to expand the protections. During the recent legislative session, her group opposed SB 180 and SB 182 to expand trade secrets to include financial information.
As an example of how she says the trade secret exemptions are abused, Petersen points to Visit Florida last year refusing to disclose how much it was paying rapper Pitbull to promote state tourism because it was “proprietary trade information.” [READ MORE]