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Monday, September 8, 2014

Photographs are Not "Biometric Identifiers" Under FOIA

The PAC recently released its eight opinion for 2014, finding a public body in violation of FOIA for denying a reporter's request for photographs of a former employee.  You can read the opinion here: PAC Op. 14-008.

A reporter for Patch.com filed a FOIA request with the Will County Sheriff's department for personnel records and photographs of a former deputy sheriff.  The county denied the request for photographs of the deputy sheriff on the basis that the photographs constitute "private information" under section 7(1)(b) of FOIA because they contain "biometric identifiers" that could be used to identify biological attributes.  The reporter appealed to the PAC.

The PAC first interpreted the term "biometric identifier," finding that it was limited to unique physical or behavioral characteristics that identify a person like a fingerprint or voice pattern.  The PAC determined that a photograph of the former deputy sheriff's head, face and shoulders was no different than a photograph on a drivers' license, and therefore did not focus on any unique physical attribute of the former employee.  The PAC also noted that the Biometric Information Privacy Act defines biometric identifier as "a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or scan of hand or face geometry" and expressly excludes "writing samples, written signatures [and] photographs."  Further, the PAC noted that the definition of "private information" in FOIA did not specifically list photographs.  

The PAC concluded that photographs are not "biometric identifiers" exempt from release under 7(1)(b), and the county must release the photographs to the reporter.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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