What does the Supreme Court’s decision this week about the Privileges and Immunities Clause mean to investigators?

That they need to continue having a good national network to help one another.

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The Court this week upheld unanimously a Virginia law that grants the right to see documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but only to citizens of Virginia.

Investigators care about this kind of law, and many like it that restrict the kinds of information we can get. A fire inspection report in Tennessee, or some official record in Virginia? Local residents only.

We have been able to get around such laws for years, by hiring a citizen of the state in question to make the request. Since there is an unquestioned right to access certain public records, our Virginia or Tennessee agents need not reveal the purpose of their information requests, nor do they need to say they are acting as agents for companies out of state.

There is another reason to use cut-outs to gather information, however: in smaller jurisdictions, clerks talk and could tip the subject or the local papers that a search is underway, and in some cases the subject of the FOIA request may be notified that a public record about him has been requested.

For that reason, it may be prudent if you are sitting in New York to get a Texas agent to ask for a federal document in Washington, for instance.

One more tip when using agents to make requests for you. Don’t tell them why you need the documents, and request one or two unrelated documents to throw them off the track of why you are hiring them at all. Then if your agent gets unduly talkative when doing his job, there will be fewer beans to spill.