What is one to do when one cannot redact actual financial information for a person? According to the Commonwealth Court, you can instead redact the person's name and address.

Right now, there is still a lot of hand-wringing over the release of people's home addresses held by an agency. The current state of the law is unsettled and neither Pennsylvania's Commonwealth nor Supreme Court has explicitly decided if there are any constitutional protections for that information. While we all wait for a definitive statement one way or the other, however, it is worthwhile to note that one of those courts has already sanctioned a situation where one may redact a person's home address: Prevailing Wage Certifications.

The case is DCNR v. OOR, 1165 C.D. 2009 (May 24, 2010). In that decision, the court agreed that a prevailing wage certification clearly contains financial information, which would normally be subject to redaction. However, the purpose of such a certiciation is to allow the public to verify that prevailing wages (as set by the Secretary of Labor through the Prevailing Wage Act) are being paid. There would be little point in releasing contractor's wage certification with all the wage information redacted, but that would be what the RTKL permits.

What the court ended up saying was that redacting an employee's name and address off the certification has the effect of making the financial information anonymous. Once it is made anonymous, it is no longer a single person's financial information and can be released.

In addition to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the other Pennsylvania agencies aligned against the position reached by the Office of Open Records (which had ruled the wage certifications should have been released without any redactions) were the Office of the Budget and the Department of General Services.

A reminder about redactions: where a requester asks only to view records but does not request copies, it is permitted to charge for copies anyway if the agency will need to make copies in order to make redactions. If it chooses to charge for those copies, the agency should get its payment prior to giving access.