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Clinic wins two important cases on appeal

The First Amendment Clinic, acting on behalf of journalist Amy Silverman, has recently won two important cases at the Arizona Court of Appeals.

In Silverman v. AHCCCS, the court ruled that agencies have to release database information in a usable format, and cannot obscure the connecting keys between data tables as protected health-care information without making an encrypted substitute for the key, so that the data is still usable. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) has claimed that encrypting the keys would constitute the creation of a new record, which is not required under the public records law. The court held that “requiring the agency to use a one-way cryptographic hash function to redact the non-disclosable data — substituting a unique hashed value that masks protected information without destroying its function in the database — is necessary to ensure a requestor receives, to the extent possible, a copy of the real record.”

In Silverman v. DES, the court ruled last week that a journalist can qualify as a “bona fide researcher” for purposes of being allowed access to certain health-related files — although the files will still have to be heavily redacted to avoid identifying any individuals. The agency had said that journalists don’t qualify for that exemption from secrecy and denied Silverman access to the records completely, thus keeping her from examining how the Department of Economic Security (DES) handles complaints about incidents involving people with developmental disabilities. However, the agency may still be able to show that the request may be too burdensome, and it can still reject her request as long as it does not act “arbitrarily and capriciously” in doing so.