State senator plans bill to shield animal researchers

Published: Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.

Noting past problems at the University of Florida, state Sen. Charlie Dean is looking to block access to personal information about animal researchers.

The Inverness Republican recently introduced a bill that would create a public records exemption for the home addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and photographs of current or former scientists at public research facilities who experimented on animals in conducting “life-sustaining medical research.”

The bill says information can be shielded by those agencies provided the researchers have made “reasonable efforts” to prevent their information from becoming public in other ways.

“The Legislature finds that the release of such personal identifying information might place current or former researchers, whose duties include experimenting on animals for the purpose of such research, in danger of physical and emotional harm from individuals who are zealous animal rights activists who advocate against the use of animals for medical research,” the bill states.

Dean pointed out that UF employees specifically have reportedly been harassed or threatened because of their work.

In the past, members of the animal-rights group Negotiation is Over have been accused of posting fliers offering a reward for researchers’ personal information.

According to a letter circulated by university officials, one protester, Lisa Grossman, a Jacksonville resident, was convicted of trespassing for violating an order not to come on campus and was sentenced to a year of probation.

UF had also obtained a restraining order for Camille Marino, founder of Negotiation is Over, who had led similar protests against researchers at UCLA and unleashed online threats at a University of Minnesota professor, the letter says.

Marino also faced felony charges in Michigan for posting personal data of a scientist at Wayne State University, according to news reports.

In May 2012, at least a half-dozen UF researchers received death threats or menacing emails and phone calls because of the group’s actions. Marino had acquired and posted online their home and work addresses as well as phone and email contact information.

Marino said she was just publicizing publicly available personal information, and she suggested death threats were deserved for people who were “murdering, terrorizing and abusing” animals.

In a related move, Marino had gone to court to force UF to comply with her public records request to provide her veterinary records of animals used in research and the location of the labs.

Dean’s bill, recalling the online posting of personal data, justifies the exemption as a safety measure.

“The Legislature finds that the harm that may result from the release of such researchers’ personal identifying information outweighs any public benefit that may be derived from the disclosure of the information,” the bill says.

The legislation would take effect July 1, if enacted.

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