|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
July 5, 1999
Ms. Helen K. Bright
Dear Ms. Bright:
You have asked whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 125513.
The University of Texas (the "university") received a request for photographs of various individuals. You have supplied most of the photographs requested. You indicate that one photograph does not exist and so could not be supplied. Open Records Decision No. 452 at 3 (1986) (open records request applies to information in existence when request is received); 362 at 2 (1983) (governmental body does not have to supply information which does not exist). One individual seeks to have the university withhold his photograph. He asserts initially that the photograph is not public information. This individual also asserts that release would implicate his privacy and that he is also concerned for his personal safety should the photograph be released.
Public information is defined by section 552.002 as "information that is collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business" either (1) by a governmental body, or (2) for a governmental body if the governmental body owns the information or has a right of access to it. The university collected and is maintaining the photograph for what we assume is a governmental purpose. The requested photograph thus is public information subject to chapter 552 of the Government Code. Id.
The test to determine whether information is private and excepted from disclosure under common-law privacy provisions, which are encompassed in section 552.101 and section 552.102 of the Government Code, is whether the information is (1) highly intimate or embarrassing to a reasonable person and (2) of no legitimate public concern. Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 930 (1977); Hubert v. Harte-Hanks Texas Newspapers Inc., 652 S.W.2d 546 (Tex. App.-Austin 1983, writ ref'd n.r.e.). The type of information the supreme court considered intimate and embarrassing in Industrial Foundation included information such as that relating to sexual assault, pregnancy, mental or physical abuse in the workplace, illegitimate children, psychiatric treatment of mental disorders, attempted suicide, and injuries to sexual organs. In Open Records Decision No. 262 (1980), this office stated that information about a patient's injury or illness might be protected under common-law privacy if such injury or illness relates to drug overdoses, acute alcohol intoxication, gynecological or obstetrical illnesses, convulsions and seizures, or emotional and mental distress. See also Open Records Decision No. 539 at 5 (1990) (information concerning emotional state may be protected by common-law privacy). A photograph that was obtained by or is held by a governmental body for a governmental purpose would not appear to be the type of information that generally implicates common-law privacy interests. See Open Records Decision No. 378 (1983).
The individual whose photograph is at issue states that he is concerned that release of the photograph could risk his personal safety. However, neither the university nor the individual explain how release of an otherwise public photograph to the requestor poses a personal risk to the individual. The photograph is a public document that must be released.
We are resolving this matter with an informal letter ruling rather than with a published open records decision. This ruling is limited to the particular records at issue under the facts presented to us in this request and should not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have questions about this ruling, please contact our office.
Ruth H. Soucy
Ref: ID# 125513
cc: Ms. Stephen N. Lisson
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US