Office of the Lieutenant Governor v. Mohn
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 1167 C.D. 2012
April 24, 2013
The Commonwealth Court required the disclosure of the home addresses of the lieutenant governor and another employee of that office, stating that home addresses are protected by neither the Pennsylvania Constitution nor the personal security exemption of the Right to Know Law.
The Court also ruled that the Lieutenant Governor’s secondary, government-issued email addresses were protected from disclosure by the “personal identification information” exemption of the RTKL.
Dan Mohn submitted an RTKL request to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor (“office”) seeking, among other information, (1) all agency-issued email addresses and telephone numbers for the Lieutenant Governor and other employees, and (2) the home addresses of the lieutenant governor and another office employee.
The office, while providing email addresses that were held out to the public as the addresses at which the public officials could be contacted, declined to provide additional government-issued email addresses under the personal identification information exemption of the RTKL.
The office also claimed the home addresses requested fell under the RTKL’s personal security and personal identification exemptions, submitting an affidavit of its Chief Information Security Officer stating that disclosure risked social engineering attacks and identity theft.
Mohn appealed to the Office of Open Records. In its final determination, the OOR ordered the disclosure of all requested information. The Office appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Commonwealth Court decision
The Commonwealth Court affirmed, relying on prior Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent, that no Constitutional right to privacy exists to protect a person’s home address. In order for a right to privacy to exist, the court explained that the person must “[exhibit] an actual expectation of privacy” and society recognizes that expectation as “reasonable.”
The court found that “no one in this day and age can have a legitimate expectation of privacy in home addresses,” noting that people “routinely disclos[e] their home addresses” which can “easily be obtained by conducting internet searches.”
Next, the court ruled that the RTKL’s personal security exemption does not exempt home addresses.
The court found that nothing in the office’s chief security officer’s affidavit supported the notion that “home addresses should be included in the “holy trinity” of personal information, i.e., person’s name, social security number and date of birth, that are reasonably likely to result in identity theft and fraud.”
As a result, the court concluded that the office failed to sustain its burden of prove that disclosure of addresses “would be reasonably likely to result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of harm to the personal security” of the individuals involved.
Finally, the court ruled that the secondary, government-issued email addresses of the lieutenant governor are exempt under the personal identification information exemption of the RTKL.
The court ruled that although such an email address may be used to carry out agency business, “it still falls within… the RTKL’s exemption of ‘a record containing all or part of a person’s personal email address.’”
The court reasoned that although it was being used for government business, the address was still personal to the Lieutenant Governor. It explained that “’personal’ … does not mean that it has to involve a public official’s personal affairs but also covers those documents necessary for that official that are ‘personal’ to that official carrying out his public responsibilities.”
The court noted that a requester may seek the emails themselves so long as they are not exempt from disclosure.