In New York State, can officers require you to use a special public records portal?
1 answer from Phil Mocek.Related request
Just got the following notice stating they are not processing a request until we use their spiffy FOIL portal. Can they force us to use their system in New York State? Anyone else run into this in other areas?
RE: Revised City of Albany FOIL process
The City of Albany City Clerk’s Office has received your FOIL request, however, at this time we are phasing out our old FOIL system. We are respectfully requesting that you submit your request online by visiting the address below and clicking on the hyperlink. Please make sure to follow the instructions provided and make sure to save your user name and password in a safe place. In the future, to check on the status of your request, you can simply log into the system. Should you have any questions feel free to call (518) 434-5090.
The New York Department of State’s Committee on Open Government states that in order to make a request under the New York Freedom of Information Law, one should”[s]imply write your request and mail it or email to the “records access officer” at the agency where the records are maintained.”
I agree with others that it sounds as if Albany staff are pulling a common police trick: make a request in hopes that the receiver will misinterpret it as a demand.
Anyone else run into this in other areas?
I ran into a similar situation recently in Washington. Unable to locate an e-mail address to which to direct public records requests for Pierce County Department of Information Technology, I submitted a general information request form and requested 1) the department’s fax number, and 2) the department’s general e-mail address. The response was incomplete. Over several e-mails, the resulting discussion went as follows, using a pattern I’ve previously applied:
pc> Fax number 253-798-6622
me> Thanks. What is the best e-mail address for PRA requests to Pierce me> County IT?
pc> Instructions for making a public records request can be found on the pc> county’s website at pc> http://www.piercecountywa.org/index.aspx?NID=2711 . The county pc> accepts requests via mail, fax or in person only.
me> Thanks. Please provide Pierce County’s index of departmental e-mail me> addresses. I would prefer to receive this record electronically, me> via attachment to e-mail to email@example.com. me> This is a public records request placed pursuant to RCW Ch. 42.56.
Sometimes staff just don’t understand the law. In this case, I later followed up with a gentle explanation of the clerk’s responsibilities under our state’s Public Records Act:
I understand how the form would be helpful to your office, but the PRA doesn’t allow public agencies to impose such a restriction on records requests. It would be unduly burdensome on the public to require us to track down a particular form for every different office from which we request public records. If you come up with a campaign for all public agencies in this state to standardize on a format for submission, I’ll probably support you, as it would surely be more convenient for everyone. In the meantime, if you want all requests to end up in a completed form of your choosing, people at your office will sometimes have to complete the forms themselves, because some of them are going to arrive via free-form e-mail message.
Similarly, as convenient as it might be for your office, you are not allowed to require that requests be made by any particular communications method or group thereof. It’s barely more practical for me to FAX you my request than it would be for me to chisel it into a slate. It has been years since I had a need for a FAX machine. I don’t even have a land line to which I could attach one. If I sent a records request by carrier pigeon or sailed it through your window folded into a paper airplane, RCW 42.56 would require the recipient to process it.
I’m sure you’re just relaying your employer’s policies. Please understand that I’m just relaying the law, which renders those policies unenforceable.
I look forward to your response to my request for the index of departmental e-mail addresses within five business days of receipt of it, as required by law.