According to the legislative declaration of the Freedom of Information Law in the State of New York, “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of the governmental actions”. In other words, we need an open government alongside a greater understanding and involvement of the public to achieve a perfect balance. And the Freedom of Information Act seems to offer the NY citizens with just that.
The right to review the documents and statistics that help making important decisions is crucial. According to the law, access to such information should not be forbidden. The government should be seen as the public’s business and the public should therefore be granted access to the records of the government in accordance with the provisions of the NYFOIL.
The governing body of each public corporation is responsible for promulgating regulations for the corporation’s agencies, in conformity with the provisions of the Information Law. These regulations should refer to aspects such as: the times and locations these records can be obtained, the individuals responsible for the keeping of the records, the fees that needs to be paid in exchange for the copies of the respective records – which should not exceed 25 cents per photocopy, not larger than 9 inches by 14 inches, or the precise cost of reproducing any other record, except when other fees are being recommended by statute.
Therefore, all agencies need to make their public records available to the public. However, access can be denied whenever these records:
- consist of portions that are specifically being exempted from disclosure by either state or federal statute;
- if their disclosure would invade someone’s personal privacy;
- if they would impair current or future awarding of contract or negotiations;
- if these records would contain portions that could be considered trade secrets and they would cause injury to the competition;
- if they would be compiled for law enforcement purposes, because would interfere with law enforcement investigations or different judicial proceedings, deprive a person of a a fair trial or impartial adjudication, identify a confidential source relating to a criminal investigation or reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures;
- if they would endanger the life or personal safety of an individual;
This also implies that New York sheriff’s departments will not release certain information regarding active or outstanding arrest warrants that have not yet been served, if that information if made public might hinder them from capturing the suspects of a crime.
Other than the protected information, your access to any other New York public records should be automatically granted during the office hours of the respective agency. Inspecting these records and creating copies, if required, should be easy. The New York Freedom of Information Law is applicable to all state and local agencies, officers, bureaus, and departments. Their extensions also fall under the same legislation.
When you request to see public records under the New York Freedom of Information Law, you must be granted access and given additional assistance to locate the information you are searching for. NY agencies have to provide access to records in both paper and electronic formats. Also, when requesting these public records, try to ask for access to the records in an informal manner, and mention the New York Freedom of Information Law provided your initial request is being denied. If you are searching for more information on this topic, you can contact the Committee on Open Government, New York Department of State, One Commerce Plaza, 99 Washington Avenue, Suite 650, Albany, NY 12231.