New York Legislature Clarifies Availability of Electronic Media Through FOIL

The Legislature has clarified a long contentious issue over the availability of electronic media under the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In Chapter 223 of the 2008 legislative session, which became law on July 7, 2008, the Legislature expanded FOIL to include electronic data that must be complied by government agencies. The new law requires government agencies and municipalities to “provide records in the medium requested by a person, if the agency can reasonably make such copy or have such copy made by engaging an outside professional service.” The law also allows the agency to charge back the cost of the storage media, the actual cost of an outside service to retrieve the data or in some instances at least part of the salary of the person doing the retrieval.

It has often been a claim by agencies that records could not be retrieved because to do so would be “unduly burdensome” The new law provides in part that an: “agency shall not deny a request on the basis that the request is voluminous or that locating or reviewing the requested records or providing the requested copies is burdensome because the agency lacks sufficient staffing or on any other basis if the agency may engage an outside staffing service to provide copying, programming or other services required to provide the copy, the costs of which the agency may recover pursuant to paragraph ( c ) of subdivision one of section eighty-seven of this article” (Public Officers Law).

This provision should result in some interesting litigation as agencies and individuals wrangle over whether the documents could be retrieved under these circumstances or whether the charges by outside vendors or for employee salaries are too high.