New York City does not have to turn over a database showing the names and addresses of residents with handgun permits to The New York Times in response to a Freedom of Information Law request, a unanimous appellate panel has ruled, reversing a lower court.
The unanimous decision of the Appellate Division, First Department, in New York Times v. City of New York Police Department, 116449/10, also held that the city does not have to disclose the addresses of hate crime victims.
The Feb. 5 ruling reversed an earlier decision by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon (See Profile), who ruled that the city had to turn over the handgun licensees' names and addresses and redacted addresses of the hate crime victims.
Their unsigned decision comes less than a month after the state Legislature passed a law allowing registered handgun owners to opt out of having their names and personal information made public. The privacy measure, part of a broader gun control package, was intended to address privacy concerns after The Journal News, a suburban newspaper covering Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, published an online map of licensed gun owners in Westchester and Rockland. The feature appeared after mass shootings in December at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
The First Department's decision, however, makes no mention of the new law.
The panel said, instead, that the fact that the state's Penal Law "makes the name and address of a handgun license holder 'a public record' is not dispositive of whether respondent can assert the privacy and safety exemptions to FOIL disclosure." And it observed that the disclosure of addresses raises heightened privacy concerns.
Public Officers Law §87(2)(f) provides an exemption to FOIL where disclosure of records would endanger life or safety. Here, the panel concluded that the affidavit of a policy deputy inspector established the possibility of endangerment if the information sought by the Times in 2010 was provided.
"Nor, since the zip codes of the license holders were disclosed, would the additional disclosure of their exact street addresses appear 'to further the policies of FOIL, which are to assist the public in formulating intelligent, informed choices with respect to both the direction and scope of governmental activities,'" the panel said, quoting a Court of Appeals ruling in New York State United Teachers v. Brighter Choice Charter Schools, 15 NY3d at 564-565 (2010).
As for the record of hate crime victims, the panel said that even redacting the last digit of the victims' addresses, as Solomon ordered, did not ensure their privacy.