November 12, 1997
Mr. James P. Coleman, Esq.
Village of Montour Falls
408 West Main Street
Montour Falls, NY 14865
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue
advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the
information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. Coleman:
I have received your letter of October 6. You wrote that the Village
of Montour Falls operates a marina/campground in which space is leased for
a fee, and that the Village is considering requiring lessees to provide their
social security numbers to be used, if necessary, "to undertake collection
action." You have asked whether the Village may require that social security
numbers be provided, and if so, whether the numbers may be "redisclosed for
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, due to the provisions of the federal Privacy Act (5 USC §552a),
I do not believe that the Village could require lessees to furnish their social
security numbers. The only aspect of the federal Privacy Act (5 USC §552a)
that pertains to state and local governments involves social security numbers,
and §7 of the Act states that:
"(a)(1) [I]t shall be unlawful for any Federal,
State or local government agency to deny to
any individual any right, benefit, or privilege
provided by law because of such individual's
refusal to disclose his social security number.
(2) the provision of paragraph
(a) of this subsection shall not
apply with respect to --
(A) any disclosure which is required by
Federal Statute, or
(B) the disclosure of a social security
number to any Federal, State, or local agency
maintaining a system of records in existence
and operating before January 1, 1975, if such
disclosure was required under statute or
regulation adopted prior to such date to verify
the identity of an individual
(b) Any Federal, State, or local government
agency which requests an individual to disclose
his social security account number shall inform
that individual whether that disclosure is
mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory or
other authority such number is solicited, and
what uses will be made of it."
The quoted provision places limitations upon the collection and use of social
security numbers by government, and unless "grandfathered in" under the
Privacy Act, agencies cannot require the submission of social security
numbers, except in conjunction with social security or other statutorily
Second, assuming that lessees voluntarily submit their social security
numbers to the Village, the Village, based on case law, could choose to
disclose them. Unlike a state agency which is required to comply with the
Personal Privacy Protection Law (Public Officers Law, Article 6-A) and
which, therefore, would be prohibited from disclosing or disseminating social
security numbers in most circumstances, a municipality, which is not subject
to that statute, would not be prohibited from disclosing the numbers. In
Seelig v. Sielaff [200 AD2d 298], the lower court enjoined a New York City
agency from releasing the social security numbers of correction officers
without their written consent. While the Appellate Division agreed that
disclosure of social security numbers would result in an unwarranted invasion
of correction officers' privacy and could be withheld under §87(2)(b) of the
Freedom of Information Law, the Court unanimously reversed and vacated
the judgment because the agency involved is an entity of local government.
Specifically, it was found that:
"The injunctive relief granted by the IAS Court
was based upon Public Officers Law §92 (1),
part of this State's Personal Privacy Protection
Law. That law by its own terms excepts the
judiciary, the State Legislature, and 'any unit
of local government' from its purview.
Consequently, the relief granted against the
respondents was improper" (id., 299).
In short a local government may opt to disclose personal information, even
when disclosure would result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman