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May 11, 1994

 

 

Mr. Owen McGuiness
168 Mark Tree Road
Centereach, NY 11720

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,
unless otherwise indicated.

Dear Mr. McGuiness:

I have received your letter of April 7 in which you protested
with regard to a refusal by the Middle Country Library to enable
you to examine 41 pages of records. You wrote that Library
personnel want to charge a fee for photocopying the records before
you may examine them.

Having spoken with an official of the Library mentioned in
your letter, Ms. Anne Hofelich, it appears that the response was
proper.

When records are available under the Freedom of Information
Law in their entirety, any person would have the right to inspect
those records at no charge. However, there are often situations in
which records include portions that must be disclosed, as well as
others that may be withheld. In the context of your request, I
believe that portions of the records reflecting wages paid to
public employees and the use or accrual of leave time must be
disclosed. However, if the same records include social security
numbers, for example, those items could clearly be withheld on the
ground that disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of
personal privacy" [see Freedom of Information Law, §87(2)(b), also
Seelig v. Sielaff, 607 NYS 2d 300, ___ AD 2d ___ (1994)]. When
records include information that may properly be withheld, such as
a social security number, an applicant in my opinion would not have
the right to inspect the record. In that circumstance, an agency
could prepare a photocopy from which deletions could be made, and
I believe that the agency could charge its established fee for
photocopying.
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify the matter.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

RJF:jm

cc: Anne Hofelich