March 17, 2000
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
I have received your letter and the materials attached to it, which reached this office
on January 31. You have sought assistance in relation to a denial of access to records by the
Town of Riverhead. Specifically, in response to a request for a "rental inspection report",
you were informed that disclosure of the report "would constitute an unwarranted invasion of
personal privacy as follows...
(c) disclosure of information of a personal nature when
disclosure would result in economic or personal hardship to the
subject party and such information is not relevant to the work
of the agency requesting or maintaining it;
(d) disclosure of information of a personal nature reported in
confidence to an agency and not relevant to the ordinary work
of such agency..."
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.
Second, in most instances, the contents of records and the effects of disclosure serve
as the factors necessary in determining the extent to which records records must be disclosed,
or conversely, may be withheld. As suggested in the response to your request, §87(2)(b) of
the Freedom of Information Law authorizes an agency to withhold records to the extent that
disclosure would result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. In addition,
§89(2)(b) includes a series of examples of unwarranted invasions of personal privacy, two of
which are represented in the response by items (c) and (d).
It has been held that the provisions pertaining to the protection of privacy are intended
to deal with intimate or personal information about natural persons [see e.g., Hanig v. State
Department of Motor Vehicles, 79 NY2d 106 (1992)]. Insofar as the report consists of facts
regarding the premises, such as findings of code violations, the size of rooms, condition of
the property and similar information, it is unlikely that those kinds of entries could be
characterized as "personal" or that disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of
privacy. On the other hand, insofar as the report includes personal or intimate information
relating to an individual, the report could, in my opinion, have properly been withheld.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Hon. Vincent G. Villella
Records Access Officer