The US Department of Justice and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James announced Wednesday that they have joined with several other states and districts in filing a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission and the State of New York in the wake of a federal court ruling that said state and local officials can no longer release public records that have been subject to public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a filing with the Supreme Court, the DOJ and New Yorkers said that the FCC and State of NY have violated the constitutional right to privacy by failing to comply with requests for records under FOIA that have already been made.
The DOJ and NYC argued that releasing the records will put lives at risk.
In addition to the public records lawsuits, the states filed a lawsuit Wednesday in New York state court in Manhattan, which is currently in the middle of a court hearing.
New York’s attorney general is seeking to prevent the FCC from using the state’s records for any purposes, including commercial purposes.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that “public officials and others who rely on public records have a duty to preserve public records and to protect them from disclosure to the detriment of the public.”
New York has filed the lawsuit after the FCC asked the state to release records that the agency had previously sought under the FOIA.
The state argued that the request for records was a request for commercial use of the records.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the New York State Bar Association, New York Public Defenders Office, New Yorkers United for Social Justice and the National Lawyers Guild.
The state’s attorney is arguing that releasing public records violates a federal law that allows public officials to obtain records in the public interest, including by public disclosure of documents that would otherwise be in the private possession of private parties.
In its brief, the New Yorkers attorneys argued that it is not clear whether the records requested by the FCC were subject to FOIA.
They said that a federal district court found that the release of the documents to the FCC violated the Privacy Act of 1974.
The New York attorneys also argued that because the records are “private” and therefore are exempt from disclosure under the federal Freedom of Access to Information Act, the release to the government is not a public records request.
The brief also argued the release is “not an exercise of public trust” because the state was not given notice of the request, and that “it was not disclosed in a way that would enable the public to have confidence that the records would be disclosed to the general public.”
The FCC, in a statement, said that its FOIA response was “in compliance with the law,” and that the documents were provided to the New Jersey State Public Records Office.
“In response to an FOIA request, the agency responded to the request,” the FCC said in a written statement.
“Our FOIA process is designed to be transparent, responsive and fair to the requester, and we take the disclosure of information seriously.
We will vigorously defend our right to make public records available.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) was one of the people who pushed for the release and has called the release a “great day for the state of New Jersey.”
The New Jersey attorney general has called on the FCC to immediately cease releasing records, saying that the “federal courts ruling is a victory for public servants across the country.”
The ruling comes as New York and other states are pushing to increase transparency in the way they release public information, including the use of public records for noncommercial purposes.
New Jersey, like many states, is considering a bill that would make it easier for the public release of information under the Open Records Act, a law that requires public agencies to give the public at least 30 days notice of their intent to release information.