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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Court Finds Public Body in Violation of FOIA in Withholding Citation Data

In 2018, a requestor submitted a FOIA request to a municipal finance department (“Department”) seeking an index of certain data from the City’s CANVAS system, which is used to store, process, and track citation information for parking tickets, speed-light camera tickets, stoplight traffic tickets, booting, and towing tickets. The Department denied the request, alleging that the requested records constitute "file layouts" and, therefore, were exempt under FOIA exemption 7(1)(o), which protects:

“[a]dministrative or technical information associated with automated data processing operations, including, but not limited to, software, operating protocols, computer program abstracts, file layouts, source listings, object modules, load modules, user guides, documentation pertaining to all logical and physical design of computerized systems, employee manuals, and any other information that, if disclosed, would jeopardize the security of the system or its data or the security of materials exempt under this Section.” (emphasis added) 

The requestor then sued the Department, and the trial and appellate courts found the Department in violation of FOIA by improperly withholding the requested records under exemption 7(1)(o). Chapman v. Chicago Department of Finance. Although the Department argued that the requested file layouts were expressly exempt under exemption 7(1)(o), the court found that the records listed in exemption 7(1)(o) are not automatically exempt - instead, a public body must demonstrate that disclosing the records would “jeopardize the security of the system or its data.” Because the Department failed to show how disclosing the file layout would (as opposed to could or possibly) jeopardize the security of the Department’s CANVAS system or its data, the court ruled that the Department was required to disclose the records.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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