Freedom of Information Law
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Overview

The Freedom of Information Law, effective January 1, 1978, reaffirms your right to know how your government operates. It provides rights of access to records reflective of governmental decisions and policies that affect the lives of every New Yorker. The law preserves the Committee on Open Government, which was created by enactment of the original Freedom of Information Law in 1974.

Freedom of Information Law Text

Advisory Opinions

The opinions represent the views of the Committee on Open Government at the time that they were rendered. They may no longer represent those views if, for example, there have been subsequent court decisions or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinions.

Due to the repetition of the substance of various opinions, not all opinions are available online. Only those that have been determined to have precedential value or that are in some manner unique are included.

Advisory opinions that are not available online, primarily those prepared prior to 1993, are maintained by the Committee on Open Government and at various law libraries throughout the state. Copies of opinions are available by contacting the Committee.


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Case Law Summary

Regulations of the Committee on Open Government

This information is not the official version of the Official Compilation of the Rules and Regulations of the State of New York (NYCRR). No representation is made as to its accuracy, nor may it be read into evidence in New York State courts. To ensure accuracy and for evidentiary purposes, reference should be made to the official NYCRR. The Official NYCRR is available from West Publishing: 1-800-344-5009.
 

21 NYCRR PART 1401

PUBLIC ACCESS TO RECORDS OF STATE AND LOCAL AGENCIES,
INCLUDING COUNTIES, CITIES, TOWNS, VILLAGES,
SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND FIRE DISTRICTS

 


1401.1 Purpose and scope.

(a) The people's right to know the process of government decision making and the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.

(b) This Part provides information concerning the procedures by which records may be obtained from an agency as defined by subdivision 3 of section 86 of the Public Officers Law. No agency regulations shall be more restrictive than this Part.

(c) Agency personnel shall furnish to the public the information and records required by the Freedom of Information Law, as well as records otherwise available by law.

(d) Any conflicts among laws governing public access to records shall be construed in favor of the widest possible availability of public records.

(e) Agencies shall amend existing regulations or adopt new regulations to implement the Freedom of Information Law in conformity with this Part.


1401.2 Designation of records access officer.

(a) The governing body of a public corporation and the head of an executive agency or governing body of other agencies shall be responsible for insuring compliance with the regulations herein, and shall designate one or more persons as records access officer by name or by specific job title and business address, and when requests are accepted via email, an email address, who shall have the duty of coordinating agency response to public requests for access to records. The designation of one or more records access officers shall not be construed to prohibit officials who have in the past been authorized to make records or information available to the public from continuing to do so.

(b) The records access officer is responsible for assuring that agency personnel:

(1) Maintain an up-to-date subject matter list.
(2) Assist persons seeking records to identify the records sought, if necessary, and when appropriate, indicate the manner in which the records are filed, retrieved or generated to assist persons in reasonably describing records.
(3) Contact persons seeking records when a request is voluminous or when locating the records sought involves substantial effort, so that agency personnel may ascertain the nature of records of primary interest and attempt to reasonably reduce the volume of the records requested.
(4) Upon locating the records, take one of the following actions:

(i) make records promptly available for inspection; or
(ii) deny access to the records in whole or in part and explain in writing the reasons therefor.

(5) Upon request for copies of records:

(i) make a copy available upon payment or offer to pay established fees, if any; or
(ii) permit the requester to copy those records.

(6) Upon request, certify that a record is a true copy.
(7) Upon failure to locate records, certify that:

(i) the agency is not the custodian for such records; or
(ii) the records of which the agency is a custodian cannot be found after diligent search.


1401.3 Location.

Each agency shall designate the locations where records shall be available for public inspection and copying.


1401.4 Hours for public inspection.

(a) Each agency shall accept requests for public access to records and produce records during all hours they are regularly open for business.

(b) In agencies which do not have daily regular business hours, a written procedure shall be established by which a person may arrange an appointment to inspect and copy records. Such procedure shall include the name, position, address and phone number of the party to be contacted for the purpose of making an appointment.


1401.5 Responses to requests for records.

(a) An agency may require that a request be made in writing or may make records available upon oral request.

(b) When an agency maintains requested records on the internet, a response shall inform a requester that the records are accessible via the internet and in printed form either on paper or other information storage medium.

(c) An agency shall respond to a request within five business days of the receipt of a request by:

(1) informing a person requesting records that the request or portion of the request does not reasonably describe the records sought, including direction, to the extent possible, that would enable that person to request records reasonably described;

(2) granting or denying access to records in whole or in part;

(3) acknowledging the receipt of a request in writing, including an approximate date when the request will be granted or denied in whole or in part, which shall be reasonable under the circumstances of the request and shall not be more than twenty business days after the date of the acknowledgment, or if it is known that circumstances prevent disclosure within twenty business days from the date of such acknowledgment, providing a statement in writing stating the reason for inability to grant the request within that time and a date certain, within a reasonable period under the circumstances of the request, when the request will be granted in whole or in part; or

(4) if the receipt of request was acknowledged in writing and included an approximate date when the request would be granted in whole or in part within twenty business days of such acknowledgment, but circumstances prevent disclosure within that time, providing a statement in writing within twenty business days of such acknowledgment stating the reason for the inability to do so and a date certain, within a reasonable period under the circumstances of the request, when the request will be granted in whole or in part.

(d) In determining a reasonable time for granting or denying a request under the circumstances of a request, agency personnel shall consider the volume of a request, the ease or difficulty in locating, retrieving or generating records, the complexity of the request, the need to review records to determine the extent to which they must be disclosed, the number of requests received by the agency, and similar factors that bear on an agency’s ability to grant access to records promptly and within a reasonable time.

(e) A failure to comply with the time limitations described herein shall constitute a denial of a request that may be appealed. Such failure shall include situations in which an agency:

(1) fails to grant access to the records sought, deny access in writing or acknowledge the receipt of a request within five business days of the receipt of a request;

(2) acknowledges the receipt of a request within five business days but fails to furnish an approximate date when it will grant or deny a request in whole or in part;

(3) furnishes an acknowledgment of the receipt of a request within five business days with an approximate date for granting or denying access in whole or in part that is unreasonable under the circumstances of the request;

(4) fails to respond to a request within a reasonable time after the approximate date given or within twenty business days after the date of its acknowledgment of the receipt of a request;

(5) determines to grant a request in whole or in part within twenty business days of its acknowledgment of the receipt of a request, but fails to do so, unless the agency provides the reason for its inability to do so in writing and a date certain within which the request will be granted in whole or in part;

(6) does not grant a request in whole or in part within twenty business days of its acknowledgment of the receipt of a request and fails to provide the reason in writing explaining its inability to do so and a date certain by which the request will be granted in whole or in part; or

(7) responds to a request, stating that more than twenty business days is needed to grant or deny the request in whole or in part and provides a date certain within which it will do so, but such date is unreasonable under the circumstances of the request.


1401.6 Subject matter list.

(a) Each agency shall maintain a reasonably detailed current list, by subject matter, of all records in its possession, whether or not records are available pursuant to subdivision 2 of section 87 of the Public Officers Law.

(b) The subject matter list shall be sufficiently detailed to permit identification of the category of the record sought.

(c) Each agency shall update its subject matter list annually, and the date of the most recent update shall be conspicuously indicated on the list.

(d) Each state agency that maintains a website shall post its current list on its website and such posting shall be linked to the website of the Committee on Open Government. Any state agency that does not maintain a website shall arrange to have its list posted on the website of the Committee on Open Government.

1401.7 Denial of access to records.

(a) The governing body of a public corporation or the head, chief executive or governing body of other agencies shall determine appeals or shall designate a person or body to hear appeals regarding denial of access to records under the Freedom of Information Law.

(b) Denial of access shall be in writing stating the reason therefor and advising the person denied access of his or her right to appeal to the person or body designated to determine appeals, and that person or body shall be identified by name, title, business address and business telephone number. The records access officer shall not be the appeals officer.

(c) If an agency fails to respond to a request as required in section 1401.5 of this Part, such failure shall be deemed a denial of access by the agency.

(d) any person denied access to records may appeal within 30 days of a denial.

(e) the time for deciding an appeal by the individual or body designated to determine appeals shall commence upon receipt of written appeal identifying:

(1) the date and location of requests for records;

(2) a description, to the extent possible, of the records that were denied; and

(3) name and return address of the appellant.

(f) A failure to determine an appeal within ten business days of its receipt by granting access to the records sought or fully explaining the reasons for further denial in writing shall constitute a denial of the appeal.

(g) The agency shall transmit to the Committee on Open Government copies of all appeals upon receipt of an appeal. Such copies shall be addressed to: the Committee on Open Government, Department of State, One Commerce Plaza, 99 Washington Ave., Suite 650, Albany, NY 12231.

(h) The person or body designated to hear appeals shall inform the appellant and the Committee on Open Government of its determination in writing within 10 business days of receipt of an appeal. The determination shall be transmitted to the Committee on Open Government in the same manner as set forth in subdivision (g) of this section.

(i) A final denial of access to a requested record, as provided for in subdivision (g) of this section, shall be subject to court review, as provided for in article 78 of the Civil Practice Laws and Rules.


1401.8 Fees. Except when a different fee is otherwise prescribed by statute:

(a) An agency shall not charge a fee for the following:

(1) inspection of records for which no redaction is permitted;

(2) search for, administrative costs of, or employee time to prepare photocopies of records;

(3) review of the content of requested records to determine the extent to which records must be disclosed or may be withheld; or

(4) any certification required pursuant to this Part.

(b) An agency may charge a fee for photocopies of records, provided that:

(1) the fee shall not exceed 25 cents per page for photocopies not exceeding 9 by 14 inches. This section shall not be construed to mandate the raising of fees when an agency in the past has charged less than 25 cents for such copies;

(2) the fee for photocopies of records in excess of 9 x 14 inches shall not exceed the actual cost of reproduction; or

(3) an agency has the authority to redact portions of a paper record and does so prior to disclosure of the record by making a photocopy from which the proper redactions are made.

(c) The fee an agency may charge for a copy of any other record is based on the actual cost of reproduction and may include only the following:

(i) an amount equal to the hourly salary attributed to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill required to prepare a copy of the requested record, but only when more than two hours of the employee’s time is necessary to do so; and

(ii) the actual cost of the storage devices or media provided to the person making the request in complying with such request; or

(iii) the actual cost to the agency of engaging an outside professional service to prepare a copy of a record, but only when an agency’s information technology equipment is inadequate to prepare a copy, and if such service is used to prepare the copy.

(d) When an agency has the ability to retrieve or extract a record or data maintained in a computer storage system with reasonable effort, or when doing so requires less employee time than engaging in manual retrieval or redactions from non-electronic records, the agency shall be required to retrieve or extract such record or data electronically. In such case, the agency may charge a fee in accordance with paragraph (c)(i) and (ii) above.

(e) An agency shall inform a person requesting a record of the estimated cost of preparing a copy of the record if more than two hours of an agency employee’s time is needed, or if it is necessary to retain an outside professional service to prepare a copy of the record.

(f) An agency may require that the fee for copying or reproducing a record be paid in advance of the preparation of such copy.

(g) An agency may waive a fee in whole or in part when making copies of records available.


1401.9 Public notice.

Each agency shall publicize by posting in a conspicuous location and/or by publication in a local newspaper of general circulation:

(a) The locations where records shall be made available for inspection and copying.

(b) The name, title, business address and business telephone number of the designated records access officers.

(c) The right to appeal by any person denied access to a record and the name and business address of the person or body to whom an appeal is to be directed.


1401.10 Severability.

If any provision of this Part or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is adjudged invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such judgment shall not affect or impair the validity of the other provisions of this Part or the application thereof to other persons and circumstances.

Model Rules for Agencies

Section 1 Purpose and scope:

  1. The people’s right to know the process of government decision-making and the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy of confidentiality.
  2. These regulations provide information concerning the procedures by which records may be obtained.
  3. Personnel shall furnish to the public the information and records required by the Freedom of Information Law, as well as records otherwise available by law.
  4. Any conflicts among laws governing public access to records shall be construed in favor of the widest possible availability of public records.


Section 2 Designation of records access officer:

  1. (insert name of governing body of municipality, or if no governing body, the head of the agency) is responsible for insuring compliance with the regulations herein, and designates the following person(s) as records access officer(s):

    _____________________________________________
    (Job title or name) (Business address) (when requests
    are accepted via e-mail, e-mail address)

    _____________________________________________

    _____________________________________________
    _____________________________________________

  2. The records access officer is responsible for insuring appropriate agency response to public requests for access to records. The designation of a records access officer shall not be construed to prohibit officials who have in the past been authorized to make records or information available to the public from continuing to do so.

    The records access officer shall insure that agency personnel:
    1. Maintain an up-to-date subject matter list.
    2. Assist persons seeking records to identify the records sought, if necessary, and when appropriate, indicate the manner in which the records are filed, retrieved or generated to assist persons in reasonably describing records.
    3. Contact persons seeking records when a request is voluminous or when locating the records involves substantial effort, so that personnel may ascertain the nature of records of primary interest and attempt to reasonably reduce the volume of records requested.
    4. Upon locating the records, take one of the following actions:
      1. Make records available for inspection; or,
      2. Deny access to the records in whole or in part and explain in writing the reasons therefor.
    5. Upon request for copies of records:
      1. Make a copy available upon payment or offer to pay established fees, if any, in accordance with Section 8; or,
      2. Permit the requester to copy those records.
    6. Upon request, certify that a record is a true copy ; and
    7. Upon failure to locate records, certify that;
      1. (insert name of agency or municipality) is not the custodian for such records, or
      2. The records of which (insert name of agency or municipality) is a custodian cannot be found after diligent search.


Section 3 Location:

Records shall be available for public inspection and copying at:

(Location)____________________________________

(Address)____________________________________

____________________________________________

____________________________________________

____________________________________________


Section 4 Hours for public inspection:

Requests for public access to records shall be accepted and records produced during all hours regularly open for business.

These hours are:

______________________________________________________________________

(NOTE: AGENCIES AND MUNICIPALITIES WHICH DO NOT HAVE DAILY BUSINESS HOURS SHOULD CONSULT ALTERNATE SECTION 4 IN THE APPENDIX)


Section 5 Requests for public access to records:

  1. A written request may be required, but oral requests may be accepted when records are readily available.
  2. If records are maintained on the internet, the requester shall be informed that the records are accessible via the internet and in printed form either on paper or other information storage medium.
  3. A response shall be given within five business days of receipt of a request by:
    1. informing a person requesting records that the request or portion of the request does not reasonably describe the records sought, including direction, to the extent possible, that would enable that person to request records reasonably described;
    2. granting or denying access to records in whole or in part;
    3. acknowledging the receipt of a request in writing, including an approximate date when the request will be granted or denied in whole or in part, which shall be reasonable under the circumstances of the request and shall not be more than twenty business days after the date of the acknowledgment, or if it is known that circumstances prevent disclosure within twenty business days from the date of such acknowledgment, providing a statement in writing indicating the reason for inability to grant the request within that time and a date certain, within a reasonable period under the circumstances of the request, when the request will be granted in whole or in part; or
    4. if the receipt of request was acknowledged in writing and included an approximate date when the request would be granted in whole or in part within twenty business days of such acknowledgment, but circumstances prevent disclosure within that time, providing a statement in writing within twenty business days of such acknowledgment specifying the reason for the inability to do so and a date certain, within a reasonable period under the circumstances of the request, when the request will be granted in whole or in part.
  4. In determining a reasonable time for granting or denying a request under the circumstances of a request, personnel shall consider the volume of a request, the ease or difficulty in locating, retrieving or generating records, the complexity of the request, the need to review records to determine the extent to which they must be disclosed, the number of requests received by the agency, and similar factors that bear on the ability to grant access to records promptly and within a reasonable time.
  5. A failure to comply with the time limitations described herein shall constitute a denial of a request that may be appealed. Such failure shall include situations in which an officer or employee:
    1. fails to grant access to the records sought, deny access in writing or acknowledge the receipt of a request within five business days of the receipt of a request;
    2. acknowledges the receipt of a request within five business days but fails to furnish an approximate date when the request will be granted or denied in whole or in part;
    3. furnishes an acknowledgment of the receipt of a request within five business days with an approximate date for granting or denying access in whole or in part that is unreasonable under the circumstances of the request;
    4. fails to respond to a request within a reasonable time after the approximate date given or within twenty business days after the date of the acknowledgment of the receipt of a request;
    5. determines to grant a request in whole or in part within twenty business days of the acknowledgment of the receipt of a request, but fails to do so, unless the agency provides the reason for its inability to do so in writing and a date certain within which the request will be granted in whole or in part;
    6. does not grant a request in whole or in part within twenty business days of the acknowledgment of the receipt of a request and fails to provide the reason in writing explaining the inability to do so and a date certain by which the request will be granted in whole or in part; or
    7. responds to a request, stating that more than twenty business days is needed to grant or deny the request in whole or in part and provides a date certain within which that will be accomplished, but such date is unreasonable under the circumstances of the request.


Section 6 Subject matter list:

  1. The records access officer shall maintain a reasonably detailed current list by subject matter of all records in its possession, whether or not records are available pursuant to subdivision two of Section eighty-seven of the Public Officers Law.
  2. The subject matter list shall be sufficiently detailed to permit identification of the category of the record sought.
  3. The subject matter list shall be updated annually. The most recent update shall appear on the first page of the subject matter list.


Section 7 Denial of access to records:

  1. Denial of access to records shall be in writing stating the reason therefor and advising the requester of the right to appeal to the individual or body established to determine appeals, [who or which] shall be identified by name, title, business address and business phone number.
  2. If requested records are not provided promptly, as required in Section 5 of these regulations, such failure shall also be deemed a denial of access.
  3. The following person or persons or body shall determine appeals regarding denial of access to records under the Freedom of Information Law:
    (name)_____________________________________________

    (job title)____________________________________________

    (business address)_____________________________________

    ____________________________________________________

    (phone #)____________________________________________
     
  4. Any person denied access to records may appeal within thirty days of a denial.
  5. The time for deciding an appeal by the individual or body designated to determine appeals shall commence upon receipt of a written appeal identifying:
    1. the date and location of requests for records;
    2. a description, to the extent possible, of the records that were denied; and
    3. the name and return address of the person denied access.
  6. A failure to determine an appeal within ten business days of its receipt by granting access to the records sought or fully explaining the reasons for further denial in writing shall constitute a denial of the appeal.
  7. The person or body designated to determine appeals shall transmit to the Committee on Open Government copies of all appeals upon receipt of appeals. Such copies shall be addressed to:

    Committee on Open Government
    Department of State
    One Commerce Plaza
    99 Washington Avenue, Suite 650
    Albany, NY 12231
     
  8. The person or body designated to determine appeals shall inform the appellant and the Committee on Open Government of its determination in writing within ten business days of receipt of an appeal. The determination shall be transmitted to the Committee on Open Government in the same manner as set forth subdivision (f) of this section.


Section 8 Fees:

  1. There shall be no fee charged for:
    1. inspection of records;
    2. search for records; or
    3. any certification pursuant to this part.
  2. Copies may be provided without charging a fee.
  3. Fees for copies may be charged, provided that:
    1. the fee for copying records shall not exceed 25 cents per page for photocopies not exceeding 9 by 14 inches. This section shall not be construed to mandate the raising of fees where agencies or municipalities in the past have charged less that 25 cents for such copies;
    2. the fee for photocopies of records in excess of 9 x 14 inches shall not exceed the actual cost of reproduction; or
    3. an agency has the authority to redact portions of a paper record and does so prior to disclosure of the record by making a photocopy from which the proper redactions are made.
  4. The fee an agency may charge for a copy of any other record is based on the actual cost of reproduction and may include only the following:
    1. an amount equal to the hourly salary attributed to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill required to prepare a copy of the requested record, but only when more than two hours of the employee’s time is necessary to do so; and
    2. the actual cost of the storage devices or media provided to the person making the request in complying with such request; or
    3. the actual cost to the agency of engaging an outside professional service to prepare a copy of a record, but only when an agency’s information technology equipment is inadequate to prepare a copy, and if such service is used to prepare the copy.
  5. When an agency has the ability to retrieve or extract a record or data maintained in a computer storage system with reasonable effort, or when doing so requires less employee time than engaging in manual retrieval or redactions from non-electronic records, the agency shall be required to retrieve or extract such record or data electronically. In such case, the agency may charge a fee in accordance with paragraph (d)(1) and (2) above.
  6. An agency shall inform a person requesting a record of the estimated cost of preparing a copy of the record if more than two hours of an agency employee’s time is needed, or if it is necessary to retain an outside professional service to prepare a copy of the record.
  7. An agency may require that the fee for copying or reproducing a record be paid in advance of the preparation of such copy.
  8. An agency may waive a fee in whole or in part when making copies of records available.


Section 9 Public notice:

A notice containing the title or name and business address of the records access officers and appeals person or body and the location where records can be seen or copies shall be posted in a conspicuous location wherever records are kept and/or published in a local newspaper of general circulation.


Section 10 Severability:

If any provision of these regulations or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is adjudged invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, such judgment shall not affect or impair the validity of the other provisions of these regulations or the application thereof to other persons and circumstances.

ALTERNATE SECTION FOUR (HOURS FOR PUBLIC INSPECTION)

(Insert name of agency of municipality) does not have daily regular business hours.

The following procedures for making an appointment, to inspect and copy records are therefore established:

_________________________________________________

_________________________________________________

_________________________________________________

For the purpose of making an appointment, please contact:

Name_____________________________________________

Title______________________________________________

Address __________________________________________

Phone No. ________________________________________

ALTERNATE SECTION EIGHT (FEES)

(NOTE: ADOPT ONLY THE SECTIONS OF THE ALTERNATIVES WHICH APPLY TO YOUR AGENCY OR MUNICIPALITY)


FEES FOR INSPECTION, SEARCH OR CERTIFICATION

(Set forth specific fees established by law and cite statutory or regulatory authority.)


FEES FOR PHOTOCOPIES

(Set forth specific fees for photocopies established by other provisions of law and cite statutory authority.)

(Set forth fees for copies of records other than photocopies which are 9 by 14 inches or less in size, and cite statutory authority.)

 


MODEL PUBLIC NOTICE

YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO SEE PUBLIC RECORDS

The amended Freedom of Information Law, which took effect on January 1, 1978, gives you
the right of access to many public records.

(INSERT AGENCY OR MUNICIPALITY NAME) has adopted regulations governing when, where, and how you can see public records.

The regulations can be seen at all places where records are kept. According to these regulations, records can be seen and copied at:

(Location)____________________________________

(Address)____________________________________

____________________________________________

____________________________________________

____________________________________________

The following officials will help you to exercise your right to access:

  1. Agency officials who have in the past been authorized to make records available
  2. Records Access Officer(s)

(name)_____________________________________________

(job title)____________________________________________

(business address)_____________________________________

____________________________________________________

(phone #)____________________________________________

 

If you are denied access to a record, you may appeal to the following person(s) or body:

(name)_____________________________________________

(job title)____________________________________________

(business address)_____________________________________

____________________________________________________

(phone #)____________________________________________

 

 

 

Publications

  •  

    Your Right to Know

    “Your Right to Know” is a publication of the Committee on Open Government that provides an overview of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and the Open Meetings Law (OML).  It offers practical guidance regarding how to obtain records under FOIL, including the time and manner in which an agency must respond to a FOIL request and the remedies available if it fails to do so.  The publication includes sample language for a FOIL request and an appeal of an agency’s denial of access.

     

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Frequently Asked Questions