March 22, 1999
Ms. Pauline Aldridge
8789 San Jose Blvd., Suite 104
Jacksonville, Florida 32217
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, unless otherwise indicated.
Dear Ms. Aldridge:
I have received your letter of March 10 in which you questioned the propriety of a
denial of access to a list of names and addresses of substance abuse counselors by the Office
of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).
Having spoken with Richard Chady, the Public Information Officer for OASAS, the
list of substance abuse counselors maintained by that agency includes the home addresses of
those individuals. For that reason, I believe that the denial of your request was consistent
with law. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
As a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption
of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that
records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a)
through (i) of the Law.
Also pertinent under the circumstances is the Personal Privacy Protection Law, which
deals in part with the disclosure of records or personal information by state agencies
concerning data subjects. A "data subject" is "any natural person about whom personal
information has been collected by an agency" [Personal Privacy Protection Law, §92(3)].
"Personal information" is defined to mean "any information concerning a data subject which,
because of name, number, symbol, mark or other identifier, can be used to identify that data
subject" [§92(7)]. For purposes of that statute, the term "record" is defined to mean "any
item, collection or grouping of personal information about a data subject which is maintained
and is retrievable by use of the name or other identifier of the data subject" [§92(9)].
With respect to disclosure, §96(1) of the Personal Privacy Protection Law states that
"No agency may disclose any record or personal information", except in conjunction with a
series of exceptions that follow. One of those exceptions involves a situation in which a
record is "subject to article six of this chapter [the Freedom of Information Law], unless
disclosure of such information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
as defined in paragraph (a) of subdivision two of section eighty-nine of this chapter." Section
89(2-a) of the Freedom of Information Law states that "Nothing in this article shall permit
disclosure which constitutes an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy as defined in
subdivision two of this section if such disclosure is prohibited under section ninety-six of this
chapter." Therefore, if a state agency cannot disclose records pursuant to §96 of the Personal
Protection Law, it is precluded from disclosing under the Freedom of Information Law.
In situations in which lists identify licensees or public employees by their business
addresses, the lists are accessible. The inclusion of the business address relates to the
performance of one's professional or governmental duties, and there is nothing "personal"
about that item. However, the Freedom of Information Law specifies that home addresses
pertaining to public employees need not be disclosed [see §89(7)]. Further, it has been held
that the home addresses of others, persons who are not public employees, may be withheld
on the ground that disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
[see American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Siebert, 442 NYS 2d 855 (1981), Empire
Realty Corp. v. NYS Division of the Lottery, 657 NYS 2d 504, 230 AD 2d 270 (1997), Joint
Industry Board of Electrical Industry v. Nolan, 159 AD 2d 241 (1990)].
It is noted that Mr. Chady indicated that a list of providers would be made available
on request, and that such a list would potentially reach a larger audience for your purposes
than a list of substance abuse counselors.
I hope that the foregoing serves to enhance your understanding of the matter and that
I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Richard Chady