August 25, 2009
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.
We are in receipt of your request for an advisory opinion concerning the website of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority through which an applicant may place a request for records, and whether the information contained thereon complies with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Law. You indicated that the name of the records access officer is out of date, that no phone or fax numbers are provided, that the MTA does not provide the “legal names” of many of its “member” agencies, and that there is only a “tiny box” within which to type the request. In this regard, we offer the following comments.
First, the Freedom of Information Law requires that each state agency that maintains a website post at a minimum, contact information for the records access officer, the times and places such records are available for inspection and copying, and how to request records in person, by mail and by email (§87[c]). Provided that they have reasonable means available, all agencies are now required to receive and respond to requests via email to the extent practicable. (§89[b]). Regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government further require that each agency designate one or more persons as records access officer, and “publicize by posting in a conspicuous location…”, “the name, title, business address and business telephone number of the designated records access officers” (21 NYCRR Parts 1401.2 and 1401.9). Accordingly, it is our opinion that contact information identifying a state agency’s records access officer, including the name, business office, telephone number and appropriate email address should be posted on the agency’s website.
Second, from our perspective, every law must be implemented in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent, and we point out that in its statement of legislative intent, '84 of the Freedom of Information Law states that "it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible." Therefore, in our opinion, contact information maintained on a state agency website should be updated as soon as reasonably practicable. Because there is no legal requirement that agencies receive and/or respond to requests via fax, we do not believe an agency would be required to post such information.
Third, we have experimented with the space allowed for the submission of a request for records on the MTA website and find that it expands with the volume of words typed. We do not believe that it would limit an applicant’s submission. In any event, it is an additional mechanism through which a person can request records; the MTA remains required to provide an email address for records requests pursuant to §§89(3)(b) and 87(4)(c).
Finally, with respect to a list of the MTA’s “member agencies”, we know of no legal requirement that the MTA post such a list on its website. Should you desire to obtain a copy of such a list pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law, we note that there would be no legal basis to deny access to same.
On behalf of the Committee on Open Government we hope that this is helpful to you.
Camille S. Jobin-Davis
cc: Victoria Clement