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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Names Exempt From FOIA When Tied To Personal Information

An Illinois Appellate Court recently held in favor of a public body in a FOIA challenge after the public body denied a request for the names of students who received MAP grants. Timpone v. Illinois Student Assistance Commission.

Timpone filed a FOIA request with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission requesting the names of all students who received a State of Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant in 2015. ISAC provided a spreadsheet aggregating 2015 MAP grants by city and the dollar amounts and number of recipients but denied Timpone's request for the students' names, citing personal privacy protections under 7(1)(a) and 7(1)(b) of FOIA. Timpone then sued, and the circuit court ruled in his favor and ordered ISAC to release the names.

ISAC appealed to the appellate court which reversed the circuit court's ruling in Timpone's favor. First, the appellate court agreed with ISAC that the names of the students who received grants qualified as "personally identifiable information" that was protected under state regulations pertaining to the confidentiality of grant applicants and participants. Second, the appellate court also agreed that the names of students were protected under the "private information" FOIA exception in 7(1)(b) because personal financial information is "universally presumed to be private, not public." The court rejected Timpone's argument that "names, by themselves are not private" finding that the students' names were tied to grant amounts (i.e., personal financial information) that, if released, would invade the students' privacy rights. 

In short, the appellate court determined that ISAC did not violate FOIA in denying a request for release of the names of students who received MAP grants since release of that information was confidential and exempt from release.


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