Microsoft has dropped a lawsuit against the city of Quincy, Wash. seeking to prevent the disclosure of public records the company filed concerning its huge new data center project in the town. Microsoft filed suit Nov. 30 seeking an injunction to block the city from complying with a public records request from an engineering firm seeking design and building plans Microsoft submitted for its data center. Microsoft dropped the lawsuit after the request was withdrawn.
Microsoft began construction in Quincy in May, and much has been written about the facility. But Microsoft contended that the documents sought through the information request contained “intricate details” of its building project, City Administrator Tim Snead told the Columbia Basin Herald. “We protect the proprietary information we have for our software, for our products and certainly for our facilities, where we’re doing some unique things,” Microsoft spokesman Lou Gellos told the paper.
We’ve previously noted the desire of major corporations to maintain secrecy about their data center projects (see Wal-Mart and the Fight Club Rule for more on this). But is it possible to maintain secrecy about a facility and still comply with local ordinances that require companies to file detailed plans about new construction?
Quincy officials said Microsoft’s request was unusual. “Well, it’s the first time we’ve ever run into anything like this. We’re kind of caught in the middle,” Snead said. “From the city’s perspective it’s not our call.” Quincy received a request for documents on Nov. 14, and was prepared to release the documents in compliance with the state Open Records Act.
The identity of the engineering and design firm wasn’t disclosed in local media reports (and is apparently not contained in the Microsoft lawsuit). The withdrawal of the request suggests that the firm may not have welcomed a public brouhaha about its inquiry.
The point of requiring companies to submit design and building plans is to give the public the opportunity to review the plans, comment upon them and express their enthusiasms or concerns. These filings should be made with the expectation that journalists will read them, and that your competitors can read them as well. I’m certainly not a lawyer, but Web resources on trade secrets indicate that a “reasonable effort” must be made to keep the information secret. Including the confidential information in a public filing doesn’t strike me as meeting that burden.