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Kentucky Governor Fights Release of Facebook Filter

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is fighting to keep his office from being forced to disclose keywords used to filter comments posted to his Facebook page, after the state’s attorney general ordered him to hand over the list.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin is fighting to keep his office from being forced to disclose keywords used to filter comments posted to his Facebook page, after the state’s attorney general ordered him to hand over the list.

Bevin, represented by government attorney Matthew Kuhn, sued the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in Franklin County Circuit Court on Tuesday, a month after Attorney General Andy Beshear granted a public records request for “all keywords used by the governor’s office to filter comments from appearing on Governor Matt Bevin’s official Facebook account.”

Bevin’s complaint says the records request stemmed from the ACLU’s failure to obtain the keywords in a separate lawsuit it filed against the governor last July.

That suit was related to the governor’s use of his Facebook and Twitter accounts and claims that he blocked users who posted critical comments.

Bevin says he uses the filter to “keep profane, obscene, and clearly off-topic comments” from appearing on his page, and that the filter helps reduce the amount of work for his staff.

He argues the keywords used in the filter are not, by definition, public records, and therefore do not have to be disclosed.

“There is no public record in the possession of the governor’s office that contains the keywords used in the Facebook keyword filter. Instead, those keywords are only contained in a dialogue box on Facebook. As such, the keywords are information, not a public record, and therefore are not subject to the Open Records Act,” the complaint states.

The only way to disclose the list would be to take a screenshot of the keywords, which Bevin claims would contradict a previous ruling by AG Beshear.

The governor bemoaned the burden this would place on governmental agencies, arguing Beshear’s December ruling against him “transforms virtually any piece of information stored on a computer or the internet into a public record.”

“Under this expansive rule,” the complaint says, “it is hard to imagine what information on a computer or the internet is not a ‘public record.’ Any information entered into a website qualifies. So does any information generated by the website. The same goes for information entered into and generated by software.”

Bevin also claims that disclosure of the filter terms would “place an ‘unreasonable burden’ on and would ‘disrupt other essential functions’ of the governor’s office.”

“The amount of time that the Governor’s Office spends screening Facebook comments each day would increase dramatically if commenters knew how to circumvent the keyword filter,” the lawsuit states. “If the keyword filter is no longer effective, as would be true if the keywords were publicly disclosed, the governor’s official Facebook page would need to be constantly monitored at all times of the day and night, lest it be overrun with profane, obscene, or clearly off-topic comments.”

Gov. Bevin’s Facebook page currently has over 120,000 followers, and his lawsuit says numerous posts from August and September of last year have already generated more than 10,000 comments.

When he granted the ACLU’s records request, Beshear concluded the governor’s use of his Facebook page is a “discretionary” action, and not an essential function of his office, a point Bevin contested in Tuesday’s lawsuit.

“No meaningful authority exists for the arbitrary line drawn by the attorney general between ‘discretionary’ and ‘fundamental.’ This is a line that the attorney general invented so that he could rule against the governor’s office,” the complaint states.

The relationship between the Republican governor and Democratic attorney general has been contentious since Beshear took office in 2016. Beshear won a legal battle that year, when the state’s high court ruled that Bevin could not cut state universities’ budgets without congressional approval. Beshear then sued Bevin last year, claiming he is wielding executive power in an unprecedented and abusive way by systematically dissolving state boards and rewriting state law.

Bevin seeks a de novo review of the ACLU’s records request and a judgment reversing the AG’s decision.

The ACLU declined to comment on the lawsuit. The governor's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

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