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Friday, November 3, 2023

Court Distinguishes between "Private" and "Personal" Information under FOIA

In response to a 2016 FOIA request seeking records relating to the requestor’s criminal case, the Chicago Police Department disclosed certain records subject to certain redactions. A few years later, the requestor submitted another FOIA request seeking records and statements attributed to a specific witness that testified at the requestor’s criminal trial. Attached to the second FOIA request was a notarized statement from the witness consenting to disclosure of her personal information to the requestor. After CPD refused to disclose the private information of the witness, the requestor sued CPD alleging that it violated FOIA by withholding the private information because the witness provided her written consent to disclose her personal information. The circuit court ruled in favor of the City, finding that CPD’s redactions were proper.

After the requestor appealed, the Appellate Court in Brewer v. City of Chicago agreed with the circuit court. The Court noted that “personal information” and “private information” are not interchangeable terms under FOIA, and rejected the requestor’s argument that CPD was required to disclose the phone number of the witness because the witness consented to disclosure of her personal information. Instead, the Court held that a personal phone number is “private information” that is expressly exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption 7(1)(b). Unlike “personal information” under FOIA exemption 7(1)(c), which can be disclosed if “consented to in writing by the individual subjects of the information,” FOIA authorized CPD to redact the private information exempt under a different FOIA exemption (section 7(1)(b)), even if the person who is the subject of the information that is being requested provides their written consent.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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