FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Front Royal, Virginia
staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your electronic
mail of February 4, 16, and 20, 2007.
have asked whether a public body may withhold the portion
of an electronic mail message showing the time when the message
was received by the public body (the header). You indicated
that you sent a records request under the Virginia Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) to the County of Prince William
(the County) by electronic mail that should have arrived on
December 15, 2006. You later requested that the County provide
you with a copy of your December 15, 2006, electronic mail
that includes the header showing when it was received by the
County. The County denied this request, asserting that the
header is protected from release pursuant to subdivision 3
of § 2.2-3705.2. That subdivision provides an exemption
from disclosure for [d]ocumentation or other information
that describes the design, function, operation or access control
features of any security system, whether manual or automated,
which is used to control access to or use of any automated
data processing or telecommunications system. You indicated
that you do not believe that any of the information contained
in a header is of the type that would be protected under subdivision
3 of § 2.2-3705.2. You also asked the County why it does
not redact information from the header that might compromise
security but provide the rest of the header information. You
indicated you have received no further reply from the County.
In presenting this question you included
electronic mail correspondence between you and the County.
One of the included messages shows the header information
for a different electronic mail message sent to you by the
County. This header appears to include various routing information
and internet protocol (IP) addresses, information about the
type of content (i.e., coding format) of the electronic mail,
along with the time received, date, and other information.
It was not redacted or otherwise hidden. Furthermore, it is
my understanding that such header information is generally
included as a part of every electronic mail message.
recognizing that computer security matters are beyond the
expertise and authority of this office, it appears that the
information contained in the header as described above is
not information that describes the design, function, operation
or access control features of any security system. Especially
considering that these headers are included as part of every
electronic mail message, it would make no sense for them to
contain sensitive security data. As an additional consideration,
you indicated that you are particularly interested in the
time and date when the email was received by the public body
as evidenced by the header. The time and date when a message
is received does not describe the design, function,
operation or access control features of any security system.
Following the narrow construction rule of FOIA,1
the exemption cannot be stretched to cover situations that
do not clearly fall within its terms as written. Therefore,
under the facts you have presented, the electronic mail header
you requested should not have been withheld pursuant to subdivision
3 of § 2.2-3705.2.
Thank you for contacting this office. I
hope that I have been of assistance.
2.2-3700 mandates that [a]ny exemption from public access
to records or meetings shall be narrowly construed and no
record shall be withheld or meeting closed to the public unless
specifically made exempt pursuant to this chapter or other
specific provision of law.