NYC Mayor’s Office FOIL Log Denials Criticized by State Open Government Adviser

June 10, 2014 8:36 pm Last Updated: June 10, 2014 8:36 pm

NEW YORK—The director of the state’s Committee on Open Government criticized the mayor’s office stance on denying reporter requests for Freedom of Information Law logs.

“I think it’s a ridiculous response,” Robert Freeman, director of the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government, said on Tuesday. “I don’t know why they are taking this stance. I think it’s silly.”

The Committee on Open Government issues official advisory opinions on Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The law states that all government documents, with little exception, are public property and should be provided upon request in a timely manner.

Maya Wiley, the counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, testified before two City Council committees on June 9, saying that the mayor’s office denies FOIL requests from reporters who are looking for logs of FOIL requests received by the mayor’s office.

Since news outlets are commercial enterprises, Wiley reasoned, their competitive advantage could be threatened if reporters from one media could see what reporters from another media are requesting. She also detailed how the mayor’s office new FOIL tracker conceals information on the nature of each request as well as the names of the requesters, in order to protect the competitive advantage of media outlets.

“We know it’s a concern to the media,” Wiley said, adding, “The FOIL law exempts commercial enterprise from disclosure.”

But being concerned for the media is not enough to qualify for an exemption from the law.

“When an agency denies access it must meet the burden of defending secrecy and it has to demonstrate that the harmful effects of disclosure described in the exception would indeed occur,” Freeman said.

“The only exception that might be pertinent in this instance says that government can withhold when disclosure would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of a commercial enterprise,” Freeman continued. “Many, many requests made by the members of the news media are routine.”

Freeman also said that the state’s highest court has ruled, “Speculation concerning the impact of disclosure is insufficient to meet the burden of defending secrecy.”

The only time Freeman has heard of an agency denying reporters’ requests for FOIL logs happened during the administration of Gov. David Paterson. The governor’s office later changed course and disclosed the FOIL request logs.

Most of the City Hall FOIL requests are from news outlets, according to Wiley.

“We had a FOIL request, for example, from one news outlet that said, ‘I want to see all FOIL requests of every other news outlet,’” Wiley said. “We said no, because what they’re doing is fishing for what their competition is trying to find out for story purposes.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.