FOIL AO 19732
May 15, 2019
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, except as otherwise indicated.
Dear Mr. Kempf:
I am writing in response to your request for an advisory opinion as to whether the County is required under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to make available for public and inspection and copying records, if any exist, of Twitter usernames blocked under the Twitter account of the County Executive in his official capacity and the Twitter account of the County Executive in his personal and/or political capacity.
In our opinion, records that reflect Twitter usernames blocked under the official @RenscoExecutive Twitter account are records maintained by the County and would be required to be disclosed in response to a FOIL request. You advise that @RenscoExecutive is a County-sponsored social medial account and that “to the extent allowed by applicable law, the County either owns or holds the rights to all parts of the @RenscoExecutive Twitter account…” On a desktop computer, a list of blocked users is available to the County by accessing Twitter’s “Settings and privacy” and then “Blocked accounts.” In our view, this list would constitute a “record” as that term is defined by FOIL (“any information kept, held, filed, produced or reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever…” FOIL §86(4).
Further, as you are aware, FOIL is based on a presumption of access. 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 (p) of the Law. In our opinion, it is unlikely that the disclosure of an individual’s or an organization’s Twitter username would cause any of the harms envisioned by the statute.
With regard to a list of usernames blocked by Mr. McLaughlin on his personal @SteveMcNY Twitter account, it is our view that this inquiry is similar in nature to inquiries we have received regarding the use of personal e-mail addresses for public business (see enclosed FOIL AO 15893). From our perspective, information kept, transmitted or received by a County official via a personal Twitter account is only subject to rights of access conferred by FOIL when that information is kept, transmitted or received in relation to the performance of his or her official duties.
In our opinion, if Mr. McLaughlin ever uses his personal Twitter account for County government business, the record of blocked Twitter usernames would be a record subject to rights of access conferred by FOIL since it would likely be impossible to separate usernames that were blocked for personal or political reasons from those that may have been blocked for a County sanctioned purpose. If Mr. McLaughlin consistently refrains from using his personal Twitter account for County business, then, in our view, any records maintained in relation to that account would not constitute County records subject to FOIL.
I hope this information proves useful.