December 2, 1999
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
I have received your note of October 16, which appears on an appeal addressed to
Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew following a denial of a request for records directed to
Community School District 2. As suggested in previous correspondence, some of the matters
that you raised have been the subjects of opinions rendered in the past and will not be
One of the issues pertains to the absence of any expressed reason for withholding
records. In this regard, the regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government
(21 NYCRR Part 1401) govern the procedural aspects of the Freedom of Information Law.
Section 1401.2 (b)(3) states that an agency's records access officer is responsible for assuring
that agency personnel make records available or "deny access to the records in whole or in
part and explain in writing the reasons therefor." Based on the foregoing, the reasons for a
denial of access must be stated in writing. This is not to suggest that any such reasons must
be explained in an exhaustive manner. As you are aware, later in the process of seeking
records, if an appeal is denied, §89(4)(a) provides that the reason must be "fully explain[ed]
Next, with respect to access to an employee's "6 - digit file number", without
knowledge of the use of that identifier, I cannot offer unequivocal guidance. I note that
§87(2)(i) of the Freedom of Information Law authorizes an agency to withhold "computer
access codes". Based on its legislative history, that provision is intended to permit agencies
to withhold access codes which if disclosed would provide the recipient of a code with the
ability to gain unauthorized access to information. Insofar as disclosure would enable a
person with the file number to gain access to information without the authority to do so, or to
shift, add, delete or alter information, I believe that the number could justifiably be withheld.
On the other hand, insofar as disclosure would not permit an individual to gain unauthorized
access information or the ability to alter the information, §87(2)(i) would not likely be
Lastly, you asked whether "‘factual descriptions' and ‘objective statements'
necessarily imply the existence of ‘statistical or factual tabulations or data'". In short, I do
not believe so. By means of example, as I type this response, I could include a factual
statement, i.e., "I looked out the window and the sky was blue", that in no way would imply
the existence of written statistical or factual data needed to support my statement.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Hon. Rudolph F. Crew