When Seneca Technologies President Will White won his public records lawsuit against the state of West Virginia, he did what any Web entrepreneur would do with his newly-acquired bevy of local tax maps — he posted the information on his website. That didn’t sit well with Kanawha County Tax Assessor Phyllis Gatson, who is asking a court to force Seneca to take the maps off the Web. Why should you care?
Well, for starters, if Gatson wins her case, it could impact other Web sites and bloggers that make public government records available on the Internet.
Public Citizen filed a brief today in support of Seneca and will argue the case in court Friday.
Paul Alan Levy, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, says Gatson’s move is an unconstitutional prior restraint of Seneca’s right to free speech. Read the news release.
Gatson’s biggest beef with Seneca seems to be that it is providing free access to maps that West Virginia’s tax assessors charge people $8 apiece for in a paper version.
In fact, when Seneca first requested electronic versions of the more than 20,000 local tax maps, the state handed the Charleston, W. Va. company a bill for $225,648. Thankfully, as part of Seneca’s FOIA suit, the charge for the maps was knocked down to a $20 processing fee.