Public Access Opinion 18-009

Property Index Numbers Not Exempt from Disclosure

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 18-009
Date: Monday, July 16, 2018

The City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (Department) violated FOIA by improperly redacting property index numbers (PINs) from records responsive to a FOIA request. On February 28, 2018, the Department received a FOIA request for a list of properties within Chicago that had been granted a Commissioner’s Adjustment under a shared housing ordinance, including the PINs for the properties. The Department responded but redacted the PINs, and the requestor submitted the matter to the PAC for review. In response to the PAC’s inquiries, the Department stated the PINs were exempt as both “private information” under Section 7(1)(b) of FOIA and “personal information” whose disclosure would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” under Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA.

FOIA defines “private information” as “unique identifiers, including a person's social security number, driver's license number, employee identification number, biometric identifiers, personal financial information, passwords or other access codes, medical records, home or personal telephone numbers, and personal email addresses. Private information also includes home address and personal license plates, except as otherwise provided by law or when compiled without possibility of attribution to any person.” Because PINs are unique to properties, not to people, the PAC found they are not “unique identifiers” exempt from disclosure as private information under Section 7(1)(b).

The PAC further reasoned that even if PINs were considered “unique identifiers,” there is no significant personal privacy interest in information that is public record under State law (as PINs are under the Property Tax Code) and is readily available on governmental websites. For this same reason, the PAC held that the Department could not claim the disclosure of PINs would constitute an “unwanted invasion of personal privacy.” The PAC ordered the Department to provide the requestor with the responsive list of properties, including their PINs.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.