Documented below is the historical context for the NYC Public Data Directory starting with Section 1062 of the New York City Charter. This amendment was made to the city charter in 1989 along with Section 1061 which created the Commission on Public Information and Communication. Below the quote of Section 1062 is the introduction to the first edition of the Public Data Directory to provide additional context. Please also see the complete text and directories in the 1993 Public Data Directory and the 2001 Data Systems Inventory.
Section 1062 of the New York City Charter:
§ 1062. Public data directory. a. The commission shall publish annually a directory of the computerized information produced or maintained by city agencies which is required by law to be publicly accessible. Such directory shall include specific descriptions of the contents, format and methods of accessing such information, and the name, title, office address, and office telephone number of the official in each agency responsible for receiving inquires about such information.
b. The mayor shall transmit to the commission such information as the commission requires to compile and update the public data directory. The mayor shall also ensure that all agencies provide the commission with such assistance and information as the commission requires.
First Edition of the NYC Public Data Directory (introduction):
THE CITY OF NEW YORK
COMMISSION ON PUBLIC INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION
PUBLIC DATA DIRECTORY
Published by: New York City Office of the Mayor Office of Operations
COMMISSION ON PUBLIC INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION
Hon. Andrew Stein, Chair, City Council President
Anne Compoccia, Public Member
Idilio Gracia-Pena, Commissioner, Department of Records and Information Services
Hon. Jose Rivera, Member, New York City Council
Harvey Robins, Director, Mayor’s Office of Operations
Gene Russianoff, Public Member
O. Peter Sherwood, Corporation Counsel
William Squadron, Commissioner, Department of Telecommunications and Energy
Peter M. Williams, Public Member
The Commission on Public Information and Communication gratefully acknowledges a grant received from the New York Times Foundation for the design and preparation of the Public Data Directory and valuable assistance received from the Community service Society and the Fund. for the City of New York. In particular, the Commission thanks Patricia A. Friedland, Director, Office of Information, Community Service Society, and Bruce Posner, Vice President, Fund for the City of New York, for their support and encouragement in making this first edition of the Public Data Directory a reality.
Section 1062 of the New York City Charter requires the New York city commission on Public Information and Communication to publish a “Public Data Directory” describing the computerized databases maintained by City agencies. This is the first “Public Data Directory” published pursuant to that requirement.
Publication of this first edition represents an important step towards fulfilling the goal of improving public access to information about the wide variety of computerized data maintained by the city. Information maintained by City agencies is increasingly being stored in computers. Until now, however, there has been no source of information available to researchers, community groups, businesses, and other members of the public regarding the types of electronic data kept by City agencies, much of which is required by law to be accessible to the public.
The New York City commission on Public Information and Communication is a new City agency, established by the 1989 amendments to the New York City Charter. The Commission is chaired by the President of the City Council, and includes public members as well as representatives of the Mayor, the City Council and a number of city agencies. In addition to publication of the Public Data Directory, the Commission’s responsibilities include education and outreach to assist the public in obtaining access to City information, and developing strategies for the use of new communications technologies to improve access to and distribution of city data. In June 1991, the Commission presented the City Council with a comprehensive proposal for cablecasting the proceedings of the Council and the City Planning Commission.
This Public Data Directory represents the joint efforts of the members of the Commission and, in particular, the staff of the Mayor’s Office of Operations and the Law Department. The Commission also wishes to acknowledge the valuable assistance provided by the agencies themselves in preparing the Directory.
For each agency, the Directory provides a brief description of the agency’s mission, the name and phone number of a, “Public Liaison” available to assist members of the public, and brief descriptions of the contents of the databases. The “Users Notes” which follow this Introduction contain important information on methods of access, legal restrictions on access to certain records, and other information.
We hope that the Directory will assist you in locating sources of information and in formulating records requests to City agencies. At present, only a few agencies offer members of the public “on-line” access to electronic data. For that reason, in most instances it will be necessary for you to make a Freedom of Information Law request to the agency in order to obtain the records you need. The Commission believes that significant opportunities exist to expand “on-line” access to City data and intends to work to encourage City agencies towards this goal.
Publication of this Directory is a first for New York City government. Our goal has been to produce a Directory that is “user friendly” for all members of the public, including both those who are knowledgeable about computer data and those who are not. In future editions, we hope to expand the listings, add to the database descriptions, and provide more information regarding computer formats. We welcome your comments on ways to improve future editions and methods of access to City agency electronic data. Attached at page xiii of the Directory you will find a questionnaire soliciting your ‘views and recommendations on the Directory. Please take the time to fill it out and return to the Commission, c/o Office of the President of the City Council, City Hall, N.Y., N.Y. 10007.
NEW YORK CITY COMMISSION ON PUBLIC INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION
You may obtain information from the databases listed in the Directory by making a written request to the agency Records Access Officer under the New York state Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”) (Public Officers Law section 84 et seq.). See attached sample FOIL request letter at page x.
FOIL provides that all records of an agency are available to the public, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more of the grounds for denial of access appearing in section 87(2) (a) through (i) of the law. For example, a record may be denied where an agency determines that disclosure of a record pertaining to an individual would result in “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”.* If an agency denies access to a record, it must do so in writing and should specify the grounds for denial. You may appeal a denial of access to a designated appeals officer at the agency. A sample appeal letter is attached at page xii.
* A useful brochure on the Freedom of Information Law may be obtained from the committee on Open Government, N.Y.S. Department of State, 162 Washington Avenue, N.Y. 12231, or call (518) 4742518.
In some instances, city agencies may be required to keep certain information confidential (e.g., under tax secrecy laws or provisions relating to private medical records). In most instances, the Directory identifies the relevant laws which require confidentiality.
In general, you may request that electronic data be provided to you in either a computer tape/disk form or in the form of a printout. Under FOIL, agencies are entitled to charge for the “actual cost of reproducing” electronic data, i.e., the cost of computer time etc. However, since it is often difficult to determine the actual cost of computer use, agencies will usually charge 25 cents per sheet for printouts or the cost of the tape or disks for electronic reproduction. Whether or not you wish to obtain data in hard copy or computer-usable form will depend upon your needs and the compatibility of your hardware and software with that of the agency.
2. Customized Data
FOIL allows members of the public access to records which are maintained by City agencies in the regular course of business and they are under no legal obligation to create new records or reformulate existing records in order to respond to requests for information from the public. See FOIL Section 89 (5) (g) In general, electronic information that can be retrieved through use of existing computer programs must be disclosed by the agency. However, if the agency can only retrieve the information you request by engaging in reprogramming, it is not obliged to do so.
This situation can arise either where the information you request is not retrievable under existing programs or where it is intermingled with confidential or FOIL-sensitive data and cannot be extracted without reprogramming. Note, however, that where removal or screening of confidential or FOIL-sensitive date presents a problem, it may sometimes be more cost-effective for the agency to reprogram than to manually delete portions of a printout. Where these situations arise, possible solutions should be discussed with the agency.
3. User Systems Requirements
In making requests to City agencies for electronic data, you should be aware that City agencies are not required to make data format or other changes in order to ensure hardware and/or software compatibility with your computer system. In many instances, agency databases reside in large mainframe systems and the data is not readily usable by personal computer systems. In other instances, special application software is required to view the data. The agency Public Liaisons listed in the Directory are available to provide you with access to further information regarding hardware and software compatibility. Discussion with agency personnel may suggest ways to accommodate your needs without imposing additional burdens upon the agency.
4. Coverage of Directory
The Directory contains entries for most Mayoral agencies and for the City Comptroller. At the time of publication, information was not available for three large City agencies: the Human Resources Administration, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Police Department. For these agencies, the Directory includes the name of a Public Liaison who is available to answer questions regarding the availability of computerized data. A number of other, generally smaller, agencies do not maintain computerized databases (e.g., the Department of Cultural Affairs). The Commission expects to include information regarding additional Mayoral agencies as well as various non-Mayoral agencies in subsequent editions of the Directory.
The Directory identifies databases which contain information relating to the regulatory functions or statutory duties of an agency. Databases which are used for agency administrative support functions are not included (e.g., accounting systems, personnel record systems, equipment inventory systems).
SAMPLE FOIL REQUEST
Name of Agency Records Access Officer
Name of Agency
Re: Freedom of Information Law Request
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law, I hereby request a computer printout of records maintained by your agency in computerized form [provide name of database, if known]. ** Specifically, I request the following: [attempt to identify the records in which you are interested as clearly as possible]
** If you are seeking electronic reproduction of a record in a tape or disk format, this should be specified.
If there are any fees for copying the records requested, please inform me before filling the request [or ... please supply the records without informing me if the fees are not in excess of $_____]
As you know, the Freedom of Information Law requires that an agency respond to a request within five business days of receipt by granting or denying access or by furnishing a written acknowledgement of receipt and a statement of the approximate date when the request will be granted or denied. Therefore, I would appreciate a response as soon as possible and look forward to hearing from you shortly.
If for any reason any portion of my request is denied, please inform me of the reasons for the denial in writing and provide the name and address of the person to whom an appeal should be directed.
Address, City, Zip Code
SAMPLE APPEALS LETTER
Name of Agency Appeals Officer
Name of Agency
Re: Appeal of FOIL Determination
I hereby appeal the denial of access regarding my request, which was made on ________ (date) and sent to _________ (name of records access officer).
The records that were denied include: ____________ (enumerate the records that were denied).
As required by the Freedom of Information Law, the person or body designated to determine appeals is required to respond within 10 business days of the receipt of an appeal. If the records are denied on appeal, the law requires that I be provided with a written explanation of the reasons for further denial.
City, State, Zip Code
PUBLIC DATA DIRECTORY QUESTIONNAIRE
The New York City Commission on Public Information and Communication welcomes your comments and suggestions on ways to improve future editions of the Public Data Directory and to expand methods of access to City agency electronic data. Please fill out this questionnaire and send to the Commission at ______________.
1. How did you obtain a copy of the Public Data Directory?
2. What methods for distribution of the Public Data Directory do you think would be most effective in reaching interested members of the public?
3. Please describe yourself as a “user type”
____ other (please describe)
4. Has the Public Data Directory been useful to you as a research or reference tool? Please describe.
5. What improvements in the Public Data Directory would you recommend for future editions?
6. If you have used the Public Data Directory to make requests to City agencies for electronic data, please provide the following information regarding each such request (use extra sheets if necessary):
a. Name of agency
b.Name of database
c. Nature of data requested
d. Form in which data was requested. (i.e., computer tape, disk, printout, or other)
e. Did you encounter any problems in obtaining access to the data you requested? If so, please describe.
7. What improvements should be made in methods of access to City electronic data?
8. Other comments
Please see the 1993 Public Data Directory and the 2001 Data Systems Inventory for full text and directories of datasets.