FOIAC's PII subcommittee recommendations for 2009

In a proposed measure endorsed by the 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 accounts with financial institutions.

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 several 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 included on applications for various licenses issued by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Further exploration of Stuart's bill in subcommittee revealed that the department's primary concern was for Social Security numbers in general, and then credit card numbers, names, addresses and other contact information for boat owners to guard against boat theft.

A representative from DGIF acknowledged that most of the contact information was available from other sources, including by physical observation, and so backed away from requesting protection for it.

DGIF was further reassured by the July 1 implementation of Del. Joe May's (R-Leesburg) bill, which makes the first five digits of an SSN confidetial, that licensees would have some protection.

But in considering Stuart's bill, and issues left over from the subcommittee's 2008 agenda, the PII subcommittee also 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 proposed exemption, which likely will be carried by Advisory Council Chair Del. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) or Vice Chair Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania) make clear, however, that the exemption cannot be invoked against the person whose account information it is.

Subcommittee members in their meetings reiterated, too, that in exempting account numbers for government accounts, it was referring only to account numbers and not to information about the existence of an account, the bank issuing a credit card, or any government employee expenses, for example.

The full Advisory Council also recommended that an emergency clause be added to the bill, which would make it effective upon the governor's signature.

On other agenda items, 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 also decided 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 local governments did not make the information available on their Web sites.