Public Access Opinion 20-003

Improper Use of 7(1)(a) to Redact Information Purportedly Prohibited From Disclosure by State Law

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 20-003
Date: Friday, May 8, 2020

The Illinois Department of Agriculture violated FOIA by improperly redacting information from responsive material as prohibited from disclosure by State law under Section 7(1)(a).
On December 6, 2019, a requestor on behalf of the Chicago Tribune (Requestor) submitted a FOIA request to the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) seeking copies of all applications for adult use cannabis cultivation center licenses. Requestor specifically stated that while he understood some information would need to be redacted for privacy (e.g., social security numbers), he stated he expected the names and addresses of each principal officer and board member to be included “in keeping with the intent of the sponsors [of the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act] to provide transparency to this newly legal industry.”
Later that month, IDA responded by providing copies of the applications but it redacted: 1) names of owners, principal officers, and board members of cannabis cultivation centers, 2) facility addresses, and 3) dates of birth of principal officers and board members of cannabis cultivation centers. Requestor disputed these redactions with the PAC.
Upon review, IDA asserted that: the names of cultivation centers’ principal officers and board members, as well as street addresses of cultivation centers, were redacted under Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA, which exempts from disclosure any information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law. IDA further asserted that dates of birth were redacted under Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA, which exempts from disclosure personal information whose disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Regarding the Section 7(1)(a) assertion, IDA contended that the information was prohibited from disclosure by sections 145(a) and 145(a)(2) of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act (MCA), which prohibit disclosing records kept by the IDA for the purpose of administering the MCA. This includes applications by or on behalf of cannabis cultivation centers.
The PAC stated that the MCA does not pertain to adult use cannabis facilities, since their licenses are regulated by the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act.  That means that the information redacted on the applications in question were not prohibited from being disclosed by State law. However, the PAC found that IDA properly redacted birth dates on the applications pursuant to Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA.
For these reasons, the PAC held that IDA violated FOIA by improperly redacting information under Section 7(1)(a).
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.