FOIA Council Opinions & Updates
In a proposed measure endorsed by the FOI Advisory Council, FOIA would gain an exemption for the account numbers of personal and government credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts and other financial institution accounts.
The council’s action came upon the recommendation of its Personal Identifying Information Subcommittee (PII), which met several times this summer and fall to consider bills referred to it by the 2009 General Assembly.
The financial account bill grew out of a measure originally proposed by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, to make confidential certain personal information, including financial account numbers, found in applications for various licenses issued by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The PII subcommittee recognized that if financial account numbers are to be exempt from FOIA, they should be exempt for everyone, not just those with DGIF licenses.
The full Advisory Council recommended that an emergency clause be added to the bill, which would make it effective upon the governor’s signature.
The PII subcommittee decided not to take any action or make any recommendation on Del. Tim Hugo’s, R-Centreville, bill that would have made teacher salaries exempt from disclosure. The subcommittee could not identify a public policy justification for treating teachers differently from other government employees.
The subcommittee decided, too, not to take action on a bill by Del. Anne Crockett-Stark, R-Wytheville, that would have exempted from disclosure the names and contact information of police officers posted online.
Noting that FOIA did not require the posting of such information online, the subcommittee felt the problem could be alleviated if governments did not put the information on their Web sites.
The FOI Advisory Council’s subcommittee on Public Records decided not to take any action on a proposal by the Prince William County Schools (PWCS) to exempt from disclosure data collected by its Visitor Identification System (VIS).
Visitors to Prince William schools are required to show some sort of official identification, which is then scanned into the VIS, a software program developed by Raptor Technologies, and matched against nationwide sex offender databases. The system collects and retains a host of personal information.
PWCS first floated the idea of an exemption in 2008, but the full advisory council was skeptical, and no one filed a bill on the school’s behalf. When PWCS returned to the council’s public records subcommittee this year, the subcommittee pointed out that much of the information that PWCS wanted to protect was already exempt by other Virginia laws.
Craig Fifer, the subcommittee’s chair, also suggested that PWCS work with Raptor to better manage their data fields so that exempt information can be quickly identified and/or that unnecessary information not be retained by the system in the first place.
An October opinion, AO-09-09, from the FOI Advisory Council concluded that the American Frontier Culture Foundation -- the fundraising agent of the Frontier Culture Museum -- was not itself a public body. Though the museum is a public body supported wholly or principally by public funds, the foundation exists as a separate corporate entity to solicit private funds that supplement the museum’s budget.
Opinion AO-10-09 revisited the 1999 revision to FOIA that, among other things, pulled various law-enforcement provisions on records access out of other parts of the code and into FOIA itself. The State Police pointed out that §2.2-3706(G) of FOIA, which exempts certain noncriminal incident or investigative reports and other records, appeared to apply only to local police departments, not to the State Police. Noting that the section refers to a specific code section applicable to local police, the council agreed, though it also questioned “whether it is the intent of the General Assembly to give different access to records held by local [police] than to the same types of records held by the [State Police].”
The council examined all the different ways a “working group” can be characterized for FOIA purposes in AO-11-09. The council did not have sufficient details to determine whether FOIA applied to a working group of the Arlington County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, but the council offered three options:
- An advisory group created by a public body to advise the public body would itself be a public body subject to FOIA;
- A group created by a public employee to advise the employee would not be a public body; or
- A self-appointed working group would not be a public body.
In AO-12-09, the council opined that a task force created by an individual, not a public body, is not itself a public body, though the records it generated and wound up with the public would be. The opinion involved a task force created by the president of the Virginia State Bar to study diversity.
The council again went over what would constitute proper notice of a closed meeting under FOIA in AO-13-09. The council emphasized that there “really is no limit to the number of possible variations, so long as the motion contains something more than a reference to, quote from, or paraphrase of a statutory exemption.”
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