February 22, 1996
Ms. Bette I. Szesny
R.D. #1, Box 191-A
Utica, NY 13502
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. Szesny:
I have received your letters of February 2 and 3. In brief, you have sought an advisory opinion concerning rights of access under the Freedom of Information Law to bank account numbers of the Town of Schuyler. You wrote that the Town Supervisor "has expressed concern that releasing town bank account numbers might subject the town's accounts to tampering by enabling those equipped with this information to make 'electronic transfers'".
In this regard, 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 §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
From my perspective, only one of the grounds for denial is pertinent to an analysis of rights of access. Specifically, §87(2)(i) authorizes an agency to withhold "computer access codes". Based on its legislative history, that provision is intended to permit agencies to withhold access codes which if disclosed would provide the recipient of a code the ability to gain unauthorized access to information. Insofar as disclosure would enable a person with an access code to gain access to information without the authority to do so, or to shift, add, delete or alter information, i.e., to make "electronic transfers", I believe that the items in question could justifiably be withheld. On the other hand, insofar as disclosure would not permit an individual to gain unauthorized access information or the ability to alter the information, there would likely be no basis for denial. I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify the matter and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Hon. Dorothy Luther, Supervisor