October 13, 2006
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter concerning "guidelines" that might indicate "what should and should not be posted on the Village Website."
In this regard, there are no guidelines or provisions of law of which I am aware that offer direction concerning the kinds of materials that government agencies should post or avoid posting on websites. From my perspective, to be more accessible to the public and reduce the burden on government, records that are clearly public and frequently requested or of significant interest to the public should generally be made available online. When the public obtains records through the internet, no staff time is needed to respond to a written request made under the Freedom of Information Law.
Nevertheless, it has been recommended that agencies be cautious and thoughtful in considering the nature of records made available on their websites, and that particular attention should relate to the protection of privacy. There are innumerable instances in which records or portions of records, such as names and addresses, are and have historically been available to the public. However, the wisdom of placing those items on a website is, in my opinion, questionable. When a person’s name and home address are placed on a website, anyone, anywhere in the world, has the ability to obtain and combine them with other items available in cyberspace by means of various search engines and data mining. When a name and an address are placed on a website, anyone, anywhere has the ability to acquire a variety of additional data about a person and use that information for purposes that cannot be anticipated. Persons identified may be solicited online or by other means; profiles of individuals can be developed; information about a person may be used for illegal purposes or perhaps to transmit viruses that can disable computers or electronic information systems.
I hope that I have been of assistance.