|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
May 8, 2000
Mr. Gary W. Smith
Dear Mr. Smith:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134961.
The City of Baytown (the "city") received a request for police records of a specific traffic offense and a videotape of an interview with the arrested suspect. You claim that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.108, and 552.130 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
We begin with your concern that the social security numbers that appear in the submitted documents are confidential. Section 552.101 excepts from required public disclosure information that is considered confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision. Accordingly, section 552.101 encompasses confidentiality provisions such as the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). This provision makes confidential social security numbers and related records that have been obtained or maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. In this case, it is not apparent to us that the social security numbers contained in the requested information have been obtained or maintained by the city pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. You have cited no law, nor are we aware of any law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990, that authorizes the city to obtain or maintain a social security number. Therefore, we have no basis for concluding that the social security numbers at issue are confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). We caution you, however, that section 552.352 of the Government Code imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Gov't Code § 552.352. Prior to releasing the social security numbers, the city should ensure that these numbers have not been obtained or maintained by the city pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
Next, we turn to the motor vehicle information contained in the submitted documents. Section 552.130 of the Government Code prohibits the release of information that relates to a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state or a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state. However, the requestor has a right of access to his own motor vehicle information. Gov't Code § 552.023. Therefore, in this instance, the city must release the Texas driver's license number, vehicle identification number, and license plate number that appear in the submitted documents because these numbers all pertain to the requestor.
Finally, we turn to the submitted videotape which you contend is excepted under section 552.108(b)(1). That section provides in pertinent part as follows:
(b) An internal record or notation of a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that is maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement or prosecution is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if:
(1) release of the internal record or notation would interfere with law enforcement or prosecution[.]
Gov't Code § 552.108(b)(1). Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). The videotape at issue depicts an interview of the arrestee by a peace officer. You explain that the purpose of the interview was to obtain and document information concerning a previously unknown gang under the theory that this information might prove useful should the gang or its members become involved in criminal activity in the future. Moreover, you state that release of the videotape would interfere with law enforcement in that it would reveal the police department's criminal intelligence. Based on these representations, we believe that the videotape is subject to section 552.108(b)(1). Accordingly, the city may withhold the videotape under section 552.108(b)(1).
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Ref: ID# 134961
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Mr. James E. Mitchell, II
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US