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City Must Turn Over Personal Cellphone Numbers

“The Oregon Public Records Act is a disclosure law, not a secrecy law,” says Alan Kessler.

Public interest lawyer and political activist Alan Kessler won another public records case against the city of Portland in Multnomah County Circuit Court last week.

This win is different from his recent victories to get personnel numbers that identify Portland police officers who covered up their name tags during street protests. In the new case, Kessler prevailed in a dispute with City Hall over whether employees’ personal cellphone numbers constitute public records.

At issue were text messages Kessler requested from the city that included messages from personal cellphones. The city declined to share the personal cellphone numbers attached to some of the texts; Kessler argued Oregon law says such numbers are public information.

“The City’s interpretation is inconsistent with both the plain language of the statute and with the Attorney General’s interpretation of that statute as set out in its Public Records and Meetings Manual,” Judge Shelley Russell wrote in a Nov. 10 opinion.

“The Oregon Public Records Act is a disclosure law, not a secrecy law,” Kessler says, calling the ruling a “vindication of my yearlong effort to get the city to release metadata about communications to and from city-owned cellphones.”

The City Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

Correction: the headline for this story originally referred to police cellphones. WW regrets the error.