January 20, 1998

Mr. Gregory Firaga
P.O. Box 7624
New York, NY 10116

The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue
advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the
information presented in your correspondence.

Dear Mr. Firaga:

I have received your letter of December 6. You wrote that you would
like to amend a file pertaining to yourself maintained by the New York City
Department of Social Services and you have asked whether you have the right
to do so under the Personal Privacy Protection Law.

In this regard, the Personal Privacy Protection Law is applicable only
to state agencies. For purposes of that statute, §92(1) defines the term
"agency" to mean:

"any state board, bureau, committee,
commission, council, department, public
authority, public benefit corporation, division,
office or any other governmental entity
performing a governmental or proprietary
function for the state of New York, except the
judiciary or the state legislature or any unit of
local government and shall not include offices
of district attorneys."

Based on the foregoing, the Personal Privacy Protection Law excludes from
its coverage "any unit of local government." Consequently, the Personal
Privacy Protection Law would not be applicable or serve as a barrier to
disclosure of records maintained by a unit of local government, such as a New
York City agency.

Second, although the Freedom of Information Law pertains to all
agency records, that statute does not include provisions concerning the
amendment of records. The Freedom of Information Law, in brief, is based
upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are
available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one
or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.

With respect to records maintained by a social services agency,
§87(2)(a) of the Freedom of Information Laws pertains to records that "are
specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute." Several
statutes within the Social Services Law prohibit public disclosure of records
identifiable to either applicants for or recipients of public assistance (see e.g.,
Social Services Law, §§136 and 372). In my view, because the records in
question are exempted from disclosure to the public, the Freedom of
Information Law does not govern rights of access to them; rather, any rights
of access would be conferred by the Social Services Law and applicable

With respect to access by the subject of case files, state regulations,
18 NYCRR §357.3, provide in relevant part that:

"(c) Disclosure to applicant, recipient, or
persons acting in his behalf. (1) The case
record shall be available for examination at any
reasonable time by the applicant or recipient or
his authorized representative upon reasonable
notice to the local district. The only
exceptions to access are:

(i) those materials to which
access is governed by separate
statutes, such as child welfare,
foster care, adoption or child
abuse or neglect or any records
maintained for the purposes of
the Child Care Review

(ii) those materials being
maintained separate from
public assistance files for
purposes of criminal
prosecution and referral to the
district attorney's office; and

(iii) the county attorney or
welfare attorney's files.

(2) Information may be released to a person,
a public official, or another social agency from
whom the applicant or recipient has requested
a particular service when it may properly be
assumed that the client has requested the
inquirer to act in his behalf and when such
information is related to the particular service

Based on the foregoing, if you are the subject of a case file, it is likely
that you would have rights of access under the regulations cited above. While
the regulations do not refer to the ability to amend records, I believe that
agencies have an interest in ensuring the accuracy of their records. That being
so, even though the Personal Privacy Protection Law may not apply, and even
though there may be no right to amend records, it is suggested that you ask
to amend records pertaining to you if you believe or can prove that the
contents of the records are inaccurate.
I hope that I have been of assistance.


Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director