|NMU||CONNECTICUT||Freedom of Information||Aug 2, 2001|
Addresses closed where ‘measures taken’ to protect privacy
- Although there is a public interest in knowing where public employees live, a privacy exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act protects addresses of employees who take steps to keep the information private.
Despite a contrary ruling by the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and a lower court, the Supreme Court of Connecticut decided July 17 that employee addresses are exempt from disclosure if the employees take significant measures to maintain the secrecy of their addresses.
Because five employees at the state Department of Banking took measures to keep their addresses private, including using post office boxes and excluding their address from telephone directories, the court said release of their addresses would be an “invasion of privacy” under the state’s FOI Act.
The court used a two-pronged test to make its determination. It found a request for the addresses did not relate to “legitimate matters of public concern” and release of the information would be “highly offensive to a reasonable person,” considering the efforts of the employees.The high court refused to order disclosure even though at oral argument the commission formally modified the request to seek only the name of the town and state in which each employee resided. The commission argued that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing whether employees live in the state, and whether employees are hired disproportionately from one geographic area. But the court said there was no evidence that the public had either of these concerns with respect to these five persons.
The judges also rejected the commission’s argument that because disclosure of an address is not generally highly offensive to a reasonable person, there is no privacy intrusion in these addresses. The court agreed that most people would not find the disclosures offensive, but said that the standard is different for employees who take significant and repeated steps to maintain the privacy of their addresses.
In March 1996, after his license to sell securities had been revoked by the state, Eric Youngquist requested the home addresses of Department of Banking employees. The department notified them of the request, asked if they objected to release, and asked what steps they had taken to keep the information private.
Youngquist received the addresses of the three employees who did not object to the release. The department took the question of the legitimacy of the release of the remaining employees to the state Freedom of Information Commission. After hearing testimony from some of the employees, the commission determined the addresses were not exempt from the state’s open records law because their release would not actually constitute an invasion of privacy.
The department sued the commission in Superior Court in Hartford which ruled that the public has a legitimate interest in addresses of public employees and disclosure would pose little privacy intrusion. The department appealed on behalf of the five employees who had tried to keep their home addresses private.
The department appealed the commission’s decision to the Supreme Court.
(Director v. Freedom of Information Commission) — CC
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press