April 26, 2009

When the internet goes away, then perhaps we can tell you what we know

Filed under: Hawaii Media,Neighbor Island Politics — Doug @ 11:02 am

I’ve been keeping a loose watch on the Hawaii County situation regarding an investigation of the internet activity of County workers. The County has data with details of where workers have been on the internet, but have refused to release the data to Councilmembers, to Stephens Media reporters, and to bloggers. The latest wrinkle is this message from the Corporation Counsel that attempts to explain why the data are withheld. Lincoln Ashida writes: 

This is what the County can disclose at the moment:

1. The records compiled by the Department of Data Systems are highly sensitive, and have not been shared outside of their department with any County department, agency or person, other than on a need to know basis. This is because many County officer and employees (including the Council) may be called as witnesses in future cases.
2. If the records are released prior to formal charges (administrative or criminal) being filed, the integrity of the case and investigation may be compromised. When I served as a prosecutor, such unlawful premature release of information would be cause for dismissal or other disciplinary action.
3. These records will ultimately be released, once all investigations are completed.

Some may wonder what the harm is if these records reveal only past internet sites visited. The reason this could harm future cases and the County is because:

1. The investigation includes sites currently being visited in order to establish trends. This also involves forensic examination of hardware and downloading of saved content.
2. Disclosing the records would identify particular individuals who may not be eventually charged administratively or criminally.

No doubt the public is entitled to view these records. The sole issue is one of timing. Once the investigations are completed and final decisions are made on administrative and criminal charges, the records will be released.


Sounds almost reasonable, until you consider that the County may never (probably will never, if they are serious about curbing abuse) stop collecting these data. Unless there is a plan to halt internet access by County employees altogether at some point, the “proper timing” argument for the release of the data is, if not a red herring altogether, going to be a real challenge. Here’s why: the portion of the investigation that “includes sites currently being visited in order to establish trends” may reveal other alleged cases of abuse, which would lead to further “ongoing” investigations preventing the release of the data, which could again reveal other potential cases of abuse, ad infinitum. Long story short: investigations of this nature are never “complete.” Following Ashida’s argument to its logical conclusion, we’ll never have access to these data.

Grudging kudos to the Coporation Counsel office for deigning to respond publicly to the simmering story. I’m hoping that Ashida has a less cynical take on this than what I’ve laid out above. I’m open to hearing it if he does.


  1. I would think once penalties are being handed down if they get handed down, they would almost have to release the reasons for it.

    I do have to laugh a little that traffic to my blog has decreased a bit during “government time” since this whole investigation has come out in the open, and increased a bit in the evening. ;)

    Comment by damon — April 26, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

  2. Great headline ….

    Comment by Dave Smith — April 27, 2009 @ 11:11 am

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