As a public health care district, Palomar Health is supposed to have public records, such as meeting minutes and agendas, available online.
That's problematic, "if not completely illegal," said David Loy, the legal director for the First Amendment Coalition. He said he’d never seen public agencies impose these terms and conditions to access their website.
“The public has a complete right to access agency records, agendas for agency meetings," Loy said. "These are public records. They belong to the people. The government serves the people. The people don't serve the government.”
The nonprofit news organization Voice of San Diego first reported the story.
California public health care districts are special districts, meaning that they aren't part of municipal or county government. Instead, they are governed by a five-member board of directors and the public.
That is deeply concerning to John Clark, who serves on the board of directors for Palomar Health.
“I honestly can't tell you why the administration went ahead and did this. It certainly sends the wrong message to the public," he said. "Palomar, like many hospitals today, they have challenges, but restricting public access to the website — it's a move in the wrong direction, and it makes it appear that we're hiding information from our citizens.”
He said the board was not informed of this change, and he will try to put the item on the agenda at the board’s next meeting.
For Loy, the most troubling part is the copyright clause, which forbids users from copying, reproducing, republishing, posting, retransmitting or distributing information found on the site without permission.
“For a public agency to tell people that they cannot use or copy or reproduce agency records public records that presents very serious First Amendment problems," he said. "It is tantamount to a prior restraint on the right (to) freedom of speech.”
Prior restraint is government action that prohibits speech or other expression before it happens. The Supreme Court has struck down laws with such restrictions.