Interview: OPRAmachine update 6/21/2018: Two significant pushbacks

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Interview conducted June 21, 2018 by Jeff Epstein, Editor-in-Chief of Citizens’ Media TV

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An update on the latest developments with Gavin Rozzi’s governmental transparency tool, OPRAmachine (of which I am in administrator). This week there have been two major incidents of pushback from governmental agencies.

The first is from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, a governmental body known to have some issues with transparency. The office is trying to charge one of OPRAmachine’s most prominent requesters, Jen Alexander, more than $1000 for something that should be easy, quick, and free. According to Gavin, in order to levy special service charges such as this one against a requester, there are fourteen conditions that must be met.

The other pushback mentioned in our discussion was a governmental body who told Charlie Kratovil, an investigative journalist with New Brunswick Today and now a mayoral candidate for the town, that requests from OPRAmachine are inherently invalid. This is despite, from the body’s point of view, that each request appears in exactly the same format plain-text emails. After some dialogue between Gavin and the body, it seems hopeful that requests will be accepted going forward.

(Ironically, Kratovil himself has aggressively reported on the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.)

We also talked about the OPRA law in general and how its “fee shifting” is what gives the law it’s teeth. Fee shifting is the condition stating that the governmental body must reimburse victorious lawyers when one of their responses is challenged. Finally, we also discuss the batch request feature of OPRAmachine, which may be monetized in the future but is currently only available to administrators. This feature allows requesters to send a request to a theoretically infinite number of governmental bodies, simultaneously. Although abuse must be prevented, this feature puts dramatic power into the hands of the requester.

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