Accessible Records

The current law states that all records are accessible, except records or portions of records that fall within one of nine categories of deniable records (section 87(2)).
Deniable records include records or portions thereof that:

(a) are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute;
(b) would if disclosed result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
(c) would if disclosed impair present or imminent contract awards or collective bargaining negotiations;
(d) are trade secrets or are submitted to an agency by a commercial enterprise or derived from information obtained from a commercial enterprise and which if disclosed would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise;
(e) are compiled for law enforcement purposes and which if disclosed would:

i. interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings;
ii. deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication;
iii. identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relative to a criminal investigation; or
iv. reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, except routine techniques and procedures;

(f) could if disclosed endanger the life or safety of any person;
(g) are inter-agency or intra-agency communications, except to the extent that such materials consist of:

i. statistical or factual tabulations or data;
ii. instructions to staff that affect the public;
iii. final agency policy or determinations; or
iv. external audits, including but not limited to audits performed by the comptroller and the federal government;

(h) are examination questions or answers that are requested prior to the final administration of such questions; or
(i) if disclosed, would jeopardize an agency’s capacity to guarantee the security of its information technology assets, such assets encompassing both electronic information systems and infrastructures; or
(j) are photographs, microphotographs, videotape or other recorded images prepared under authority of section eleven hundred eleven-a of the vehicle and traffic law.
The categories of deniable records are generally directed to the effects of disclosure. They are based in great measure upon the notion that disclosure would in some instances “impair,” “cause substantial injury,” “interfere,” “deprive,” “endanger,” etc. This represents a significant change from the thrust of the original enactment.

One category of deniable records that does not deal directly with the effects of disclosure is exception (g), which deals with inter-agency and intra-agency materials. The intent of the exception is twofold. Memoranda or letters transmitted from an official of one agency to an official of another or between officials within an agency may be denied, so long as the communications (or portions thereof) are advisory in nature, such as advice, opinions or recommendations. For example, an opinion prepared by staff which may be rejected or accepted by the head of an agency need not be made available. However, the statistical or factual information, as well as the policies and determinations upon which an agency relies in carrying out its duties should be made available.

There are also special provisions in the law regarding the protection of trade secrets and critical infrastructure information. Those provisions pertain only to state agencies and enable a person submitting records to state agencies to request that records be kept separate and apart from all other agency records on the ground that they constitute trade secrets. In addition, when a request is made for records falling within these special provisions, the submitter of such records is given notice and an opportunity to justify a claim that the records would if disclosed result in substantial injury to his or her competitive position or other harm. A member of the public requesting records may challenge such a claim.

One of the exceptions to rights of access, referred to earlier, states that records may be withheld when disclosure would result in “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” (section 87(2)(b)).

Unless otherwise deniable, disclosure shall not be construed to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy when identifying details are deleted, when the person to whom a record pertains consents in writing to disclosure, or when upon presenting reasonable proof of identity, a person seeks access to records pertaining to him or her.