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Child ID database information is not a public record

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    NMU         OHIO         Freedom of Information         Apr 14, 2000    

Child ID database information is not a public record

  • The state high court ruled that child ID cards issued by a government agency are not public and are protected from disclosure by a privacy interest.

The city of Columbus did not violate the public records law when it refused to release the names and addresses of children who used municipal swimming pools, the state Supreme Court ruled in mid April.

The information was not a public record, and even if it were, releasing the information would violate state and federal laws that protect the privacy rights of children, the court said.

Faced with rising violence and vandalism at its municipal pools, the city in May 1996 began requiring children to register with the Recreation and Parks Department and to obtain identification cards in order to use the pools and other recreation facilities. The city required parents participating in the program to give the names and addresses of their children, family and emergency-contact information and medical histories.

In January 1998, a Columbus man filed suit in state court Columbus after the department said it would not release information from its electronic database containing the names, addresses and other information of children participating in the identification-card program. The trial court ruled the information was not a public record, but an appeals court in Columbus reversed and ordered the information to be released.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the department argued that even though it collected and kept the information seemingly in accordance to the public records law, the information nonetheless did not constitute a public record. The Supreme Court agreed, finding a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held only information that showed what a government was up to was to be considered public. Releasing the information about the children who had identification cards would not shed light on whether the department’s program had been successful at lowering incidents of violence and vandalism at the municipal pools, the court said.

The court also said that even if the information was a public record, state and federal privacy laws prevented its release. Especially worrisome to the court was the possibility that the information could be posted on the Internet and used by child molesters to target victims.

Dissenting in part, Justice Deborah Cook argued that the court’s ruling that the information was not even a public record could result in future restrictions of access to government information.

(Ohio ex rel. McCleary v. Roberts; Pro se counsel: Cornell McCleary)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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