Many of us are familiar with FOIA – the Freedom of Information Act which provides the general public with the right to access federal agency records or information. States have created their own FOIA laws and provisions and New York’s, known as the Freedom of Information Law, has recently been amended per legislation signed by New York Governor Paterson effective August 7, 2008. FOIA provisions generally require that an agency can charge a maximum of 25cents per photocopy when records are made available or the actual cost of those records that cannot be copied. Agencies reported financial hardships with the amount of time their employees were spending fulfilling FOIA requests.
The new fees authorized now provide not only for the actual cost of providing records, but also include the cost of employee’s time if at least two hours of time is necessary to complete a request. The hourly salary is to be that of the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skills to complete the request. Additionally, if, in rare cases, an agency is incapable of preparing a copy due to insufficient technology equipment, an agency may charge the actual cost of hiring an outside professional service. Agencies must notify the requestor of the fee in advance if either employee time or an outside agency fee will apply.
My first thought in reading of this change was rather cynical – that agencies are trying to reduce or narrow the scope of requests. Then I see on the state’s FOIL page that this is exactly right. The state says “With advance knowledge of the amount of the fee that would be assessed, applicants in many situations may narrow the scope of their requests”.
Other changes to New York’s FOIL may be viewed here.
Access to public records remains a vital resource for citizens and is one that all of us should continue to use. I believe that we also have a duty to monitor governments’ responses to our requests to ensure that our access remains open and within reason. View other articles on this subject, as well as access public records at the Public Records Directory.