Freedom of Information Act Amendment
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Public Act 442 of 1976, was amended in August of 2002, when the Michigan legislature enacted Public Act 437 of 2002. Since public libraries are included in the act's definition of a "public body" and are subject to FOIA, this brief article highlights the latest changes to the FOIA exemptions that library boards, librarians and staff should note.
The new law can be found in Section 13 of FOIA (MCL 15.243 et seq.), which specifically outlines those records and materials that public bodies such as public libraries may exempt from disclosure. As of August 1, 2002, public libraries may exempt from disclosure certain records or information about measures designed to protect the security/safety of public and private persons or property. What are some examples of such information and records?
They include building, public works and public water supply designs to the extent that those designs relate to the ongoing security measures of a public body. Also included are emergency response plans, risk planning documents, threat assessments, and domestic preparedness strategies.
It is crucial to mention that these exemptions to disclosure are neither absolute nor automatic. They are valid only to the extent that they would impair a public body's ability to protect the security or safety of persons or property. If, on the other hand, the public interest in disclosing the listed information outweighs the public interest in not disclosing the information, the exemption does not apply.
Although FOIA requests may be few and far between in the typical public library, adequate training in the required procedures should be available for all staff. Public service staff should be familiar with the fact that FOIA requests may take place and how they should be handled. The FOIA coordinator must develop a clear understanding of the act's provisions in regard to timely responses, records exempt from disclosure and the calculation of costs. Ideally, the library should seek legal counsel for a review of any policies, written forms and decisions to deny a request for information.
By Dragomir Cosanici,
Library Law Specialist
Library of Michigan