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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

PAC Determines Names of Residents Who Received Parking "Exceptions" Are Releasable

The City of Chicago’s Office of the City Clerk received a FOIA request seeking letters of exception for residential parking in the City’s 45th Ward. In response, the City Clerk’s Office released the responsive letters but redacted certain information based on FOIA’s private and personal information exemptions, including the names of persons that had been issued "exceptions" to the City’s residential parking requirements. The requestor then submitted a request for review with the Public Access Counselor (PAC) challenging the partial denial.

In binding PAC Opinion 21-007, the PAC concluded that the City Clerk’s Office violated FOIA when it improperly redacted the names of persons contained in the parking letters of exception.

First, the PAC noted that names are generally not exempt under FOIA section 7(1)(b) (the private information exception) because names are basic (rather than unique) identifiers and the City Clerk’s Office failed to demonstrate that disclosing the names would reveal information that falls within FOIA’s definition of “private” information.

Second, as to the City Clerk's Office reliance on 7(1)(c), after balancing the requestor’s and the public’s interest in learning about allegations of improper parking exceptions in the City, the PAC concluded that the City Clerk’s Office failed to demonstrate that disclosing the names of people who had been issued parking exceptions would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, or that the privacy interests in the names was substantial enough to outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure. As a result, the PAC concluded that the names of residents who had been granted parking exceptions were not exempt under FOIA section 7(1)(c).

There may be situations where the release of someone's name could constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy to trigger the FOIA exception contained in 7(1)(c), depending on the context of the record in which the person's name is attached. This case was not one of those, at least not according to the PAC.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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