February 25, 1993
Mr. Kevin McGlynn
Mid-State Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 216
Marcy, N.Y. 13403
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.
Dear Mr. McGlynn:
I have received your undated letter, which reached this office on February 17. You have asked whether you may use the Freedom of Information Law to "make [law enforcement agencies] force over information they have" concerning "how they created informants out of various individuals."
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, I point out that the Freedom of Information Law pertains to existing records. Section 89(3) of that statute states in part that an agency need not create a record in response to a request. Therefore, insofar as the information in which you are interested does not exist in the form of a record or records, the Freedom of Information Law would not apply, and an agency would not be required to create a new record on your behalf.
Second, 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 section 87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
Most relevant to inquiry in my view is §87(2)(e), which enables an agency to withhold records that:
"are compiled for law enforcement purposes and which, if disclosed, would:
i. interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings;
ii. deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication;
iii. identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relating to a criminal investigation; or
iv. reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, except routine techniques and procedures."
It is noted that a recent held that the purpose of §87(2)((e()(iv):
"is to prevent violators of the law from being apprised of nonroutine procedures by which law officials gather information (Matter of Fink v. Lefkowitz, 47 N.Y.2d 567, 572, 419 N.Y.S.2d 467, 393 N.E.2d 463). 'The Freedom of Information Law was not enacted to furnish the safecracker with the combination to the safe' (id., at 573, 419 N.Y.S.2d 467, 393 N.E.2d 463). 'Indicative, but not necessarily dispositive, of whether investigative techniques are nonroutine is whether disclosure of those procedures would give rise to a substantial likelihood that violators could evade detection by deliberately tailoring their conduct in anticipation of avenues of inquiry to be pursued by [law enforcement] personnel***' (id., at 572, 419 N.Y.S.2d 467, 393 N.E.2d 463 [citations omitted]). Even though a particular procedure may be 'time-tested', it may nevertheless be nonroutine (id., at 573, 419 N.Y.S.2d 467, 393 N.E. 2d 463). Likewise, a highly detailed step-by-step depiction of the investigatory process should be exempted from disclosure" [Spencer v. New York State Police, 591 NYS 2d 207, 209-210, ___AD___(1992)].
Additionally, the Court found that:
"petitioner is not entitled to disclosure of portions of the file relating to the method by which respondent gathered information about petitioner and his accomplices from certain private businesses because the disclosure of such information would enable future violators of the law to tailor their conduct to avoid detection by law enforcement personnel" (id. 210).
Based on the foregoing, if the records in which you are interested exist, it is likely that they could be withheld under the Freedom of Information Law.
I hope that I have been of some assistance. Should any further questions arise, please feel free to contact me.
Robert J. Freeman