Nonprofit Newswire | Privacy Concerns—Ruff Justice

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June 9, 2010; Source: Times Union | A group of veterinarians in an upstate New York county may be howling if a court decision stands that allows the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to get hold of state records that contain the mailing addresses of animal care providers. According to the Times Union, the Appellate Division of New York state Supreme Court has ordered the Department of Education, which licenses professionals in the state, to turn over names and complete addresses of all veterinarians and veterinary technicians doing business in Schenectady County.

The nonprofit SPCA had originally requested that information under the Freedom of Information Law. (FOIL) The SPCA wanted the addresses for an informational mailing “about who we are and what we do,” said Matt Tully, board chair. The education department only provided a list containing names and cities and towns. It refused to disclose the street addresses on grounds that it would be an invasion of personal privacy because many animal care providers work out of their homes.

SPCA’s first suit to compel release of the full addresses was dismissed, but it won access to the complete mailing information on appeal last week. Writing for the majority, Associate Justice William McCarthy cited a 2006 opinion from the state Committee on Open Government that said that licensee records are subject to FOIL, and license holders are supposed to be told that their records can be disclosed.

Noting the more serious implications of the court’s decision, in his dissent, Bernard “Bud” Malone Jr. wrote the ruling could potentially violate the privacy of 800,000 professionals licensed to work in the state, including doctors, dentists, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists and certified public accountants. Malone said that license holders are only required to provide a current mailing address, and thus the records don’t indicate whether it is a business or residence. The state attorney general’s office hasn’t decided whether to appeal the ruling.—Bruce Trachtenberg