1. Right to Privacy: The Public Records Act lists more than 41 types of information that agencies are not required to provide you. In addition the Act incorporates "other statutes" (state and federal) that pertian to confidentiality or accessibility of public records. Some involve "privacy" or the "right to privacy"; however, this concept is limited to these specific situations, and there is no general right to privacy. Moreover, where the term "privacy" is used, it is narrowly defined as disclosure of information that is both highly offensive and of no legitimate public concern.
2. Specific Discretionary Exemptions: An agency is not forbidden to disclose exempted information, and may release materials even if an exemption clearly applies. However, the Public Records Act lists certain types of information that the agency may refuse to give you, including the following:
(a) Personal information in files maintained for public school students, patients or clients of public institutions or public health agencies, or welfare recipients.(i) A Washington superior court has ruled that names and addresses of property owners who contract with a city for home improvement loans provided under federal Housing and Urban Development rehabilitation program are not exempt under this section. This court found that such people are not "clients" of a city and that names and addresses are not "personal information."(b) Personal information in files maintained for employees, appointees or elected officials of any public agency to the extent that disclosure would violate their right of privacy.
(i) A Washington Court of Appeals decision suggests that "personal information" is that which "normally would not be shared with strangers" and relates to a person's family life.
(ii) According to a 1973 state attorney general opinion, salary information should generally be available, although individual deductions taken by an employee may fall within the right of privacy.
(iii) Complaints by employees regarding their supervisor's job performance have been held not exempt.
(iv) Retirement disability records of firefighters and police officers are generally not exempt.
(v) Off-duty misconduct by police officers is not private information.
(vi) Teacher certification revocations, particularly as they pertain to sexual misconduct with students, are not private.
(vii) Performance evaluations of public employees have been held not to be exempt where redacted so that the employees were not identified. Such evaluations were withheld, however, where the employees were identifiable and where the evaluations did not discuss specific instances of misconduct.
(c) Tax assessment or collection information required of a taxpayer, the release of which would violate the taxpayer's right of privacy or would result in an unfair competitive disadvantage.(i) The Washington Supreme Court has held that disclosure of data collected by the King County assessor for the purpose of assessing ad valorem taxes was not exempt information. The court said the right of privacy does not prevent disclosure of information about a taxpayer even though disclosure causes some inconvenience or embarrassment to the taxpayer.
(ii) The Court of Appeals has ruled that the right of privacy does not prevent the release by a county assessor of names of lessors and lessees of certain farmlands.
(d) Intelligence or investigative information possessed by investigative, law enforcement or professional disciplinary agencies, to the extent necessary for effective law enforcement or for protection of any person's right to privacy.(i) Records of Public Disclosure Commission's investigation involving specific charges of campaign disclosure law violations have been held exempt because the records could lead to criminal prosecution and release of the records might destroy the ongoing investigation.(e) Identities of victims, witnesses, and people who make complaints to law enforcement authorities if disclosure would place them or their property in danger. Such persons may even be entitled to elect anonymity.
(ii) Police officers' complaints to a city manager about the police chief are public records, not exempt from disclosure. Inquiry into personnel matters or complaints is not "investigation" under the statute.
(iii) To qualify for exemption, records must be related to a criminal or quasi-criminal investigation focusing on a particular party, or related to a police internal affairs investigation. Records of police internal affairs investigations may be exempt, however, if their non-disclosure is held to be essential to effective law enforcement.
(iv) The name of the victim of an illegal strip search who is suing the city for damages relating to the incident has been held not exempt from disclosure.
(v) Agency investigations related to public employee misconduct, including off-duty misconduct, have been held not exempt from disclosure on privacy grounds.
(vi) Disclosure of unsubstantiated allegations involving a heinous crime, e.g., alleged child abuse by Tacoma mayoral candidate, may be invasion of privacy. Courts must find that the allegations have been adequately investigated and that there is no legitimate public concern as to the allegations themselves.
(f) Test data for administration of a license, employment or academic examination.
(g) Contents of real estate appraisals, until final sale is completed or abandoned.
(h) Valuable formulae, designs, drawings and research data, if obtained by the agency in the past five years and if disclosure will result in a private gain and public loss.
(i) Information need not have a scientific or technical character to fall within this exemption. The Court of Appeals has withheld a cash-flow analysis commissioned by an agency on a showing that the information was organized, derived from a diligent search, and the basis for discussion or decision.(i) Preliminary drafts, notes, intra-agency memoranda and the like, in which opinions are expressed or policies are formulated or recommended.
(ii) This exemption covers raw data as well as the over arching or guiding hypothesis.(i) This exemption is limited to the deliberative or policy making process, not to factual matter used in the deliberations. There must be a showing that disclosure of the specific opinions would harm the agency's deliberative or consultative function. Once the opinions or recommendations covered by the exemption are implemented as policy, they lose their protection.
(ii) Peer review documentation concerning tenure decisions may be excepted from the above rule if the evaluators participate in making the tenure decision.
(iii) Raw material compiled by a sheriff, including interview summaries containing opinions of those interviewed for purposes of preparing a report on improvement of jail management is not exempt because such material is "evidence" on which the agency deliberates.
(iv) Complaints by police officers concerning their chief have been held not to be opinions, but fact. Also, it can be argued that only pre-decisional exchanges within an agency are exempt; discussion between agencies is not covered.
(v) Responses received by city in response to municipal golf manager survey are not exempt.
(vi) A study of real property was not deliberative process material where it was cited as the basis for a final action.
(vii) Matters that are factual, or that are assumed for the purposes of agency discussion to be factual, must be disclosed.
(j) Records previleged from the discovery process in litigation. These are records that are relevant to a controvery to which the agency is a party and that would not be discoverable by the other party to the controversy.
(k) Information identifying locations of archaeological sites.
(l) Library records that would disclose the identity of a library user.
(m) Financial information for bidder qualification submitted in conjunction with a bid for a ferry system construction or repair contract, or for a highway construction or improvement contract.
(n) Railroad company contracts filed prior to July 28, 1991 with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC), except for summaries thereof.
(o) Financial and commercial information supplied by private persons pertaining to export services.
(p) Financial disclosures filed by private vocational schools.
(q) Records containing "valuable commercial information" filed with the WUTC (or attorney general) that have been classified by a court as confidential.
(r) Financial and commercial information supplied by businesses applying for loans or services from the Department of Trade and Economic Development, the Department of Community Development, the Development Loan Fund Committee and the Washington Economic Development Finance Authority.
(s) Membership lists in time-share projects, condominiums and the like, if regulated by the Department of Licensing (but only as to records possessed by or on file with the Department).
(t) All applications for public employment, including names of applicants, resumes and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant.
(u) The residential addresses and residential telephone numbers of employees or volunteers of a public agency.
(v) The residential addresses and residential telephone numbers of customers of a public utility.
(w) Health care providers' Social Security numbers and residential addresses and phone numbers.
(x) Information obtained by the Board of Pharmacy in connection with the loss, theft, distribition, of disposed of drug samples.
(y) Information obtained by the Board of Pharmacy or Department of Health in connection with sale, delivery, identification, or distribution of prescription or controlled drugs.
(z) Financial information, business plans, examination reports and information submitted a business seeking certification as an industrial development corporation.
(aa) Financial and commercial information supplied to the State Investment Board relating to the investment of public trust or retirement funds if disclosure would result in loss.
(bb) Financial and valuable trade information provided to the Department of Labor & Industries by health care providers who have contracts in relations to the workers compensation program.
(cc) Client records maintained by a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center.
(dd) Identifying information with respect to agency employees who make informal complaints regarding possible employment discrimination (usually sexual harassment), where the employee requests anonymity.
(ee) Investigative records compiled by an employing agency conducting a current investigatiion of an unfair labor practice or allegation of employment discrimination.
(ff) Business-related information submitted regarding certification of producers or organic food products.
(gg) Financial, commercial, operations, and technical and research information and data submitted to or obtained by the Clean Washington Center in applications for or delivery of program services.
(hh) Information and documents created specifically for a health care provider's agency-approved quality improvement program.