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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Home Addresses of Public Officials Exempt From FOIA

Recently, the interpretation of the "private information" exemption of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act has come into question in the context of FOIA requests filed with a number of Illinois public bodies requesting the home addresses of members of a public body.  FOIA exempts from release records or information that fall within the definition of "private information":
(c-5) "Private information" means unique identifiers, including a person's social security number, driver's license number, employee identification number, biometric identifiers, personal financial information, passwords or other access codes, medical records, home or personal telephone numbers, and personal email addresses. Private information also includes home address and personal license plates, except as otherwise provided by law or when compiled without possibility of attribution to any person.
The law seems pretty clear - the definition expressly references "home address" as exempt information. Thus, it certainly seems that the home addresses of public officials would be exempt from release. Earlier this year, an appellate court agreed with that interpretation in the unreported decision of Ward v. Weisbaum, 2015 IL App (3d) 130852-U

In that case, Mr. Ward filed a FOIA request with the secretary of state requesting the home addresses of certain county officials, including the recorder of deeds, deputy recorder of deeds, and a notary public. The state denied the request, citing the "private information" exemption, and Ward sued, arguing that the home addresses were not exempt. 

The appellate court ruled in favor of the state, and dismissed the case.  The court noted that the definition of "private information" specifically references home addresses, and therefore the public officials' home addresses were not subject to release under FOIA.  The court also noted that there was no provision of law that required disclosure of the home addresses.  As a result, the state did not violate FOIA in denying the FOIA request for the officials' home addresses.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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