City Claims Ransomware Hinders Records Release

Ransomware message on computer screen. | Image by Zephyr_p/Shutterstock

The City of Dallas said it is still unable to fulfill open records requests following an alleged ransomware attack that crippled many City programs and databases earlier this month.

In response to an ongoing open records request by The Dallas Express, the City said it would need more than the typically allowed 10 days to compile the information due to the purported ransomware attack.

As reported by The Dallas Express, the City suffered major network outages on May 3 due to an apparent cybersecurity failure. The alleged attack stalled the City’s permitting process, delayed emergency vehicles, and froze crime data reporting, among a host of other adverse effects.

Nearly three weeks later, the public still knows very little about the incident, and the investigation is ongoing, as covered by The Dallas Express.

Nancy Gonzalez, the open records coordinator for the City Secretary’s Office, explained to The Dallas Express, “Due to a cybersecurity incident, the City is experiencing service interruption and is working to restore services.”

“Additionally, various city departments are unable to access records, including information maintained solely in digital format, such as e-mails, and compliance with the request is not feasible at this time,” she continued.

“Expect delays in receiving responsive records,” Gonzalez said, adding, “We anticipate providing documents within ten business days of when the City fully restores access to digital information.”

“We appreciate your patience during this time.”

In Texas, the process for obtaining government records is governed by the Public Information Act, which states, “the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government … adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people.”

The law notes that citizens have the right “to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.”

“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know,” the law continues. “The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

However, the City of Dallas has a history of obfuscating the release of requested public documents, as reported by The Dallas Express.

In 2016, Attorney General Ken Paxton took the City of Dallas to the Texas Supreme Court after the City failed to respond to a records request within the mandatory time frame.

In two separate instances, the City waited for 26 and 49 business days, respectively, after receiving a records request before appealing to the Office of the Attorney General for the redaction of sensitive material — many times longer than the required 10-day response period.

A City attorney claimed, “[W]e missed the deadlines in both of these instances. It was inadvertence I believe. There’s… nothing in the record to indicate anything else,” according to court documents.

“Inadvertence” is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “Heedlessness; lack of attention; failure to pay careful and prudent attention.”

Dallas residents have routinely called for greater transparency at the local level, according to polls conducted by The Dallas Express.

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