The Jewish Press has long tried to take full advantage of New York’s so-called Freedom of Information Law, known as FOIL laws, to secure information possessed by government agencies relating to issues of concern to our community. Issues like discrimination against Jews in general and shomrei mitzvot in particular are of interest to us. The information we request is invaluable to our efforts to keep our readers informed on these matters.
The FOIL laws set requirements for when agencies must disclose information in their possession to the public upon specific request. Of course there are legitimate exceptions in order to accommodate people’s privacy concerns, law enforcement, litigation dynamics, and also the difficulty in compiling the requested information in a presentable form.
Unfortunately, for their own inappropriate reasons, requests are sometimes arbitrarily denied by these government agencies. Not only does The Jewish Press make more FOIL requests than most other news publications, but we are also a leader in going to court to challenge arbitrary denials.
Last December, New York State enacted legislation broadening the utility of FOIL, requiring agencies to provide specific reasons for denying particular data and disallowing wholesale denials based upon very narrow objections. It also sharply curtailed the law enforcement exception and the authority to redact the documents provided.
Unfortunately, a bill was recently passed in New York’s legislature that negates last December’s changes. That bill is now on Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk for signature. In the interests of an informed New York, we urge her not to sign it.