Public Records Access and Data Privacy in New York State

Public Records Access and Data Privacy in New York State

New York State’s Freedom of Information Law or FOIL for short is a series of laws that have been enacted for the purpose of allowing citizens of the state to access the public records of state agencies and government bodies that serve residents within New York State. While the law was initially passed in 1974, it has since been amended several times, most recently in 2008. With all this being said, the law outlines the steps that government officials within New York state must follow in order to make government records and information accessible to members of the general public. Furthermore, the law also sets forth the circumstances under which access to government information or records can be denied.

How are public records defined under the law?

Under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law, a public record is defined as “any information kept, held, filed, produced or reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes.” Conversely, the law defines a state agency as “any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature.”

What are the requirements of state agencies under the law?

New York State’s Freedom of Information Law mandates that government and state agencies develop rules and regulations that can be used to govern the access of their public records and information. These rules and regulations must include the following elements:

  • The times and places under which New York citizens are permitted to access the records of the agency.
  • The specific individuals from whom the information and records may be obtained.
  • A provision that ensures that the fees for copying a particular record do not exceed twenty-five cents per photocopy.
  • Guidelines that can be used to protect the confidentiality and security of personally identifiable information that may be contained within public records. In absence of such guidelines, a state agency may delete or redact identifying details when making their records available for public consumption.
  • The development of a form, made available online, that members of the public can fill out when looking to make a public records request.

When can a state agency deny a public records request?

New York State’s Freedom of Information Law forbids state and government agencies from denying a public records request solely on the basis of the content of said records. When choosing to deny a public records request, a state agency is responsible for providing a particular or specialized justification for the decision, subject to certain exceptions. Some of these exceptions include:

  • Public records that are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal legislation.
  • Public records that could result in the unwarranted invasion of privacy of an individual if they were disclosed.
  • Public records that would impair contract awards or collective bargaining agreements if they were disclosed.
  • Public records concerning trade secrets that would cause a substantial injury to the competitive positive of a particular business or enterprise if they were disclosed.
  • Public records that are compiled for law enforcement purposes, such as information pertaining to investigations or judicial proceedings, among other things.
  • Public records that could endanger the safety or life of an individual if they were disclosed.

How can state agencies in New York comply with the FOIL?

When looking to comply with legislation such as New York State’s Freedom of Information Law, automatic redaction software can be used to safeguard the personal privacy and information of all parties involved. For example, the provisions of the law require state agencies to protect certain forms of personal information that may be contained in public records. Through the use of an automatic redaction software program, this information can be rendered inaccessible to the general public, allowing state agencies to comply with the law while also allowing citizens to access public information and records without hindrance.

As virtually all states throughout the U.S. have enacted some form of legislation that allows their respective citizens to access certain information and public records, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA, such legislation has taken the form of the FOIL within New York State. Through the sections of the law, residents within New York State are permitted to access a wide range of records regarding their local governments and jurisdictions. As such, citizens of New York state have the means to hold their government officials accountable.