Public Information: Establishing Proper Identification
Governmental bodies subject to the Texas Public Information Act are not able to inquire into the purpose for which the requested information will be used. In fact, a single statute governs all of the inquiries that a governmental body may make of a requestor, the heading for which is aptly named “Permissible Inquiry by Governmental Body to Requestor.” Under that statute, a governmental body may make the following types of inquiries:
- To establish proper identification
- To clarify the request, if what information has been requested is unclear
- To narrow the scope of the request, if a large amount of information has been requested
- To establish eligibility to receive a motor vehicle record
- To establish eligibility to receive certain property tax appraisal photographs
This article concerns the first type of permissible inquiry—to establish proper identification. The Public Information Act requires uniform treatment of requests for information, so it may seem odd that a governmental body may inquire into the requestor’s identification. However, proper identification may be necessary to determine whether a requestor has a special right of access to certain information. For example, a person usually has a special right of access to information concerning themselves that may otherwise be withheld based on privacy. Also, a parent or legal guardian may have a special right of access to information concerning a child. Even entities can have special rights of access to information, such as law enforcement agencies having a special right of access to certain information pertaining to criminal justice. Therefore, in establishing proper identification, it may be necessary to determine if a requestor is seeking information in the individual or official capacity.
In other cases, proper identification of a requestor may be needed to determine if the governmental body must accept and comply with the request in the first place. For example, a governmental body is not required to accept or comply with a request for information from an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a correctional facility.
Sometimes, proper identification is needed to determine how charges must be collected from a particular requestor. Generally, because the amount of charges for public information are set by the attorney general, and because requests must be treated uniformly, different requestors cannot be charged differing amounts for the same types of information. However, depending on the circumstances, the timing of when the charges are to be collected may vary depending on the identity of the requestor. For example, for requests that require large amounts of employee or personnel time, a governmental body may set reasonable monthly and yearly limits on the amount of personnel time that may be spent on a particular requestor before that requestor must pay for such costs in advance.
But what if a request is submitted anonymously and the requestor refuses to identify themselves, even after being asked to do so? According to the attorney general, establishing proper identification of a requestor is not necessary for a request to be valid and for the duty to respond to it to be triggered. However, a requestor who wishes to remain anonymous may waive a special right of access that they otherwise may have. For example, an anonymous requestor who requests information about themselves may have some information withheld from them on privacy grounds when they otherwise would have had a special right of access to the information if the governmental body had been informed that the requestor and the person whose privacy rights are implicated are one and the same.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.