FOIA: What records aren’t public?
Under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act, all public records of government agencies must be available for public review.
Public records include “any writing containing information related to the conduct of the public’s business, prepared, owned and retained” by a government agency.
Only eight narrow categories of information are exempt from disclosure. Listed in West Virginia Code 29B-1-4, they are:
- Trade secrets, which may include, but not be limited to, any formula, plan pattern, process, tool, mechanism, compound, procedure, production data or compilation of information which is not patented which is known only to certain individuals within a commercial concern who are using it to fabricate, produce or compound an article or trade or a service or to locate minerals or other substances having commercial value, and which gives its users an opportunity to obtain business advantage over competitors.
- Information of a personal nature such as that kept in a personal, medical or similar file, if the public disclosure of that information would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy, unless the public interest by clear and convincing evidence requires disclosure in the particular instance.
- Test questions, scoring keys and other examination data used to administer a licensing examination, examination for employment or academic examination.
- Records of law enforcement agencies that deal with the detection and investigation of crime and the internal records and notations of such law enforcement agencies which are maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement.
- Information specifically exempted from disclosure by other statutes.
- Records, archives, documents or manuscripts describing the location of undeveloped historic, prehistoric, archaeological, paleontological and battlefield sites or constituting gifts to any public body upon which the donor has attached restrictions on usage or the handling of which could irreparably damage such record, archive document or manuscript.
- Information contained in or related to examination, operating or condition reports prepared by, or on behalf of, or for the use of any agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions, except those reports which are by law required to be published in the newspaper.
- Internal memoranda or letters received or prepared by any public body.