Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

Freedom of Information Advisory Council

August 5, 2008

The third meeting of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council was held at the General Assembly Building in Richmond. Delegate Morgan Griffith was elected chair and Senator Edward Houck as vice-chair. Two new Council members were welcomed, Forrest M. "Frosty" Landon and John G. Selph.

Subcommittee Reports

Personal Identifying Information

Staff reported that the Personal Identifying Information Subcommittee (PII Subcommittee) met to continue its work regarding social security numbers (SSNs) and other personal identifying information. The meeting began as a joint meeting with the Joint Commission on Technology and Science Subcommittee Studying SSNs.

The joint subcommittee received a presentation from Richard Varn, CIO of the City of San Antonio, Texas, and Executive Director of the Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access. Mr. Varn focused on the value of strengthened authentication procedures and heightened penalties for misuse as better approaches to prevent identity theft rather than redaction of SSNs or limitations on the use of SSNs. He emphasized that SSNs are already widely available in existing records, making redaction impractical and expensive, and that the majority of current identity theft crimes do not use SSNs at all.

The members heard an update on the survey regarding the collection of SSNs by state agencies, cities, counties, and certain towns, as mandated by SB 132/HB 634 (2008). The responses to the survey forms and instructions sent out to the affected parties have indicated that the survey process has already revealed valuable information to the affected public bodies about their own practices in regard to the collection of SSNs, including instances where SSNs may not need to be collected.

The joint subcommittee also considered four bills—HB 1087, HB 1088, HB 1096, and HB 1102—concerning the protection of SSNs that were referred by the General Assembly during its 2008 Regular Session. The joint subcommittee deferred any action regarding these bills, indicating that it wants to hear first about other states' experiences in regard to laws allowing access and use of partial SSNs, and a report from the Department of Motor Vehicles regarding the federal Real ID requirements and their implementation in Virginia.

The PII Subcommittee separately, without the JCOTS Subcommittee, considered SB 529 that concerns access to concealed carry handgun permits. The members will further study this matter before taking action.

Electronic Meetings

Staff reported that the Electronic Meetings Subcommittee had met to discuss changes made by the 2008 Session of the General Assembly in HB 1332/SB 423 that would allow members of the State Air Pollution Control Board and the State Water Control Water Board to meet via teleconference under certain circumstances during the process of issuing permits. Certain provisions in the bills conflict with the electronic meetings requirements of FOIA. At its last meeting, the subcommittee agreed to a partial draft that addressed some of the issues raised, but did not want to bring it before the full Council until the draft is complete. Senator Houck will serve as acting chair of the subcommittee meeting on August 5, 2008. Craig Fifer will chair future meetings.

Other Business

Staff reported receiving inquiries from both citizens and state agencies regarding the requirements of § 2.2-3704 J of the Code of Virginia, which requires public bodies to maintain an index of computer databases. It appears there may be confusion about what this subsection requires and practical difficulties in meeting those requirements. This provision was intended to address issues that arose when agencies first began switching from paper records to electronic databases, and was intended to provide a means for citizens to see what type of records were kept by each agency.

Tom Falat of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) indicated that VITA was willing to work with the Library of Virginia and the FOIA Council on this issue. Additionally, he stated that VITA's audit requirements include relevant definitions and reporting requirements for listing databases for security purposes. While VITA's security interests are likely different from the FOIA interest in providing citizen access to public records, it may be helpful to see if and how these different database provisions might overlap and be made consistent with each other. In order to further study this matter, the Council established a subcommittee consisting of members Landon (chair), Axselle, and Spencer.

Staff also raised the issue of public bodies using new technologies such as BoardDocs to record their meetings, and consequently not producing written minutes. The BoardDocs technology appears to allow the publication online of navigable audio recordings of meetings with attached document links. FOIA itself speaks to the minimum contents of meeting minutes, but is silent regarding whether minutes must be written or in any particular format.

Several Council members expressed the view that written minutes are the traditional and best form for historical and archival purposes, and that other technological formats are often rendered obsolete by newer formats. Council members also expressed that having a summary and the ability to quickly navigate through minutes are helpful tools to improve citizen access by obviating the need to listen to an entire recording in order to find a particular topic of interest. Council members also observed that there is wide variety in the way minutes are kept by different public bodies. The Council also had questions about the practical use of technologies such as BoardDocs, and suggested that staff arrange a presentation from a public body that has actual experience with BoardDocs. To further study these issues, the Council established a subcommittee consisting of members Wiley (chair), Malveaux, Selph, and Miller.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Council is scheduled to be held on October 6, 2008, in Richmond.

The Hon. H. Morgan Griffith

For information, contact:
Maria Everett, Executive Director
Alan Gernhardt
, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2008

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