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FOIL opens door to information

The law does have some limitations that allow for the withholding documents that would "be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," would inhibit a criminal investigation, are protected by state or federal statute, or would endanger the life or safety of any person.

Also, the law does not require the information access officer fulfilling the request to compile or create a document. It only pertains to documents that already exist.

Freeman cited a few instances where FOIL had a tangible, direct impact on government and citizens, including "Troopergate," where state-funded surveillance was questioned regarding former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno.

Freeman also cited a local attorney who was required to repay money for pension abuse, and school attorneys being paid on the books for full-time jobs in as many as five different school districts as results that came about following a FOIL search.

Beyond shedding light on graft or abuse of power, FOIL can be used by citizens trying to get access to documents that have a direct effect on them.

One such instance Freeman described involved a woman who called his office Monday, Oct. 20, and asked about using FOIL to check the certification of her daughter's special education teachers.

"These are critical issues," Freeman said.

The law, he said, has a variety of uses to save taxpayers money.

He cited a recent news story that used information gathered from a FOIL request to bolster the reporting about people who dodge their E-ZPass bills. As a result of the information, the state hired a collection agency and collected millions of dollars in money owed.

Who's FOILING whom?

Freeman said that while all citizens are allowed equal access to FOIL documents, some should be expected to go out of their way to use the law to their advantage.

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