CHICAGO — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's recent opinion that the names of state residents are not private in Freedom of Information Act requests raises identity theft concerns, a local government attorney says.
"We know there's a lot of ways for the bad guys to get our personal information," said Hart Passman, an attorney at Holland & Knight in Chicago, whose practice focuses on local government. "Previously, FOIA, as has it has been implemented by governments in Illinois, was not designed to be one of those vehicles. This opinion makes it harder for local governments to protect this part of someone's personal information."
The binding opinion released in February by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General asserts names of state residents are not protected from disclosure by a city government or other governmental body under the state's FOIA statutes.
The opinion stems from a FOIA request filed with the city of Joliet in October by Troy Community Consolidated School District 30C asking for a water bill associated with a specific address. The city redacted the customer's name.
Hart Passman Holland & Knight
"[The city] cited a provision in the FOIA law that allows redaction of private information that's defined in the statute," Passman said. "The school district challenged that redaction to the attorney general's office, which ... has the power to review administratively decisions made under FOIA and under the Open Meetings Act. They went back and forth a bit and... the attorney general said the city was not allowed to redact out the name of the person whose water bill was requested."
Passman said the city's decision was typical for such requests to local governments in Illinois.
"So, normally, you would redact out their address," he said. "In this case, because the home address was already known, they took out the name. Sounds logical. But the attorney general said, 'No, you can't do that. The statute only says the address is private information, someone's name is not. So, therefore you have to provide the unredacted water bill,' which, of course, included the person's name."
Passman said the attorney general's opinion has potential privacy concerns, but he is unsure whether the Illinois General Assembly will take any action.
"I can't say whether or not we should expect to see that, but I would hope that they would take this up," he said.