December 7, 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 information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Ms. Martin-Senecal:
I have received your letter and apologize for the delay in response. You asked whether you are “allowed to request a copy of your personnel file from [your] former State employer.”
In my view, most pertinent in the context of your inquiry is the Personal Privacy Protection Law (Public Officers Law, Article 6-A). I note that the Freedom of Information Law deals with rights of access conferred upon the public generally; the Personal Privacy Protection Law deals with rights of access conferred upon an individual, a “data subject”, to records pertaining to him or her. 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 the Personal Privacy Protection Law, 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)].
Under §95 of the Personal Privacy Protection Law, a data subject has the right to obtain from a state agency records pertaining to him or her, unless the records sought fall within the scope of exceptions appearing in subdivisions (5), (6) or (7) of that section or §96, which would deal with the privacy of others.
While as a "data subject", you may enjoy rights of access to some records about yourself, insofar as the records pertain to or identify others, there may be privacy considerations applicable to them. To the extent that the records identify others, §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, §96(1)(c), involves a case 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". Consequently, 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; alternatively, if disclosure of a record would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and if the record is available under the Freedom of Information Law, it may be disclosed under §96(1)(c).
I hope that I have been of assistance.