FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-07


March 14 , 2007

Mike Stollenwerk
Alexandria, Virginia

The staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your electronic mail of March 4, 2007 and our telephone conversation on March 6, 2007.

Dear Mr. Stollenwerk:

You have asked whether social security numbers (SSN's) may be redacted from boat titling and registration records held by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (the Department). You made a request to the Department for the records of a number of named individuals that include the individuals' SSN's. The Department provided records in reply, but redacted the SSN's, citing § 2.2-3808.1 of the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (GDCDPA) as the applicable exemption.1 In your request for an opinion from this office, you stated that § 2.2-3808.1 prohibits the release of SSN's under certain circumstances, but also states that the prohibition shall not apply where disclosure of such information is required (i) to conduct or complete the transaction for which such information was submitted or (ii) by other law or court order. Further, you indicated that two provisions of Title 29.1 require SSN's to be provided on boat titling and registration applications. Reading these provisions together, you concluded that § 2.2-3808.1 does not allow redaction of the SSN's by the Department in this case, because those SSN's are required by law to be provided in order to complete the boat titling and registration transactions. You then request an opinion from this office on the issue of whether § 2.2-3808.1 allows the Department to redact SSN's in these circumstances.

The powers and responsibilities of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council (the Council) are set forth in § 30-179. Subdivision 1 of that section empowers the Council to [f]urnish, upon request, advisory opinions or guidelines, and other appropriate information regarding the Freedom of Information Act (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.) to any person or agency of state or local government, in an expeditious manner. This office offers opinions and guidance only in regard to FOIA. Other laws will be considered as they directly relate and interact with FOIA, but this office does not and cannot offer opinions solely concerning laws outside of FOIA. In regard to § 2.2-3808.1, that section of the GDCDPA explicitly references FOIA and is on its face a prohibition on the release of SSN's under certain circumstances. Under the circumstances it specifies, § 2.2-3808.1 is therefore a valid exception to mandatory disclosure under FOIA. However, the opinion you have requested does not require interpretation or guidance under FOIA - it requires an interpretation of provisions of Title 29.1 as they interact with § 2.2-3808.1 (i.e. whether the laws concerning boat title and registration applications negate the prohibition on disclosure of SSN's under the GDCDPA). Such an opinion is beyond the scope of FOIA, and beyond the statutory authority of this office.

Thank you for contacting this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.


Maria J.K. Everett
Executive Director

1 Section 2.2-3808.1 reads as follows: Notwithstanding Chapter 37 (§ 2.2-3700 et seq.) of this title or § 2.2-3802, it shall be unlawful for any agency or court clerk to disclose the social security number or other identification numbers appearing on driver's licenses or information on credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, or other electronic billing and payment systems that was supplied to an agency or a court clerk for the purpose of paying fees, fines, taxes, or other charges collected by such agency or court clerk. The prohibition shall not apply where disclosure of such information is required (i) to conduct or complete the transaction for which such information was submitted or (ii) by other law or court order.