on confidentiality and FOI laws
|May 29, 2014||Posted by Jenica under Collection Management, Growly, Libraries, The Vendor Files|
For the past few weeks now I’ve been emailing back and forth with a vendor, debating terms of a license agreement. I struck several terms, both of my own volition and on recommendation from purchasing officials on my campus, and added additional SUNY-specific terms that need to be included. I’ve done this many times before, and usually, the vendor suggests changes to bring us to agreement, or simply agrees, and we move on. (The notable exception is that Lexis-Nexis will never ever ever ever agree to allowing walk-in users, which is an incredible pain in the ass in re: our public access computers.)
Except this time, I’m getting pushback.
The clause in question requires, in regard to legal requests for disclosure under applicable Freedom of Information requests, that “the party required to make such disclosure promptly provides written notice to the other party of such required disclosure and reasonably cooperates with such other party’s efforts to minimize the extent of such disclosure.”
Italics mine. I say no. I have two strong beliefs that inform that choice.
1. I think it’s deplorable to ask anyone to minimize their compliance with the law. Period. Requiring that I “minimize the extent” of disclosure asks me to look at a FOI request and say “how much can I get away with hiding?” rather than honestly asking “What data will satisfy this request?” As an information professional committed to providing access to as much information as possible to as many as possible, that’s just abhorrent. As a State employee, I’m also subject to additional sunshine clauses contained in State policy, so this not only requires that I twist my legal obligations to best suit a corporation, it requires that I skirt the requirements of my employment as closely as possible — under the direction of an outside party.
2. What is there in this agreement that needs to be held so confidential? NOTHING. In my assessment, having signed many, many license agreements in the last decade, there are no terms here that are unusual, outside of the industry standard, or in any way harmful to the corporation’s interests — other than the pricing offered us. These terms and terms like them in library contracts exist only, as far as I can tell, to prevent libraries from discussing their pricing agreements amongst ourselves. They are designed to protect the vendors from collective awareness and action, and better-informed decision-making by libraries. Again, as an information professional committed to providing access to information, this is counter to my professional philosophies and goals.
And I won’t accept either of those things.