The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) claims to allow regular people like you and me to request information from the federal government. Each individual state has also implemented legislation to the same effect. But requests made under these laws often result in responses claiming no such information exists or reams of paper with large black blocks concealing any useful information. New York has gone an extra step. In addition to refuting the existence of requested information or handing over redacted information the state can now tell requesters that it cannot confirm or deny the existence of such information:
Normally, when you submit a FOIA request to a government agency, one of three things happens: You get the records you want, the agency says no such records exist, or the agency says the records are exempt from disclosure.
But there’s another possible outcome: You might be told that the agency can “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence” of the records. That’s been permissible under federal law since 1976. And now, thanks to a case raising concerns in media circles, it’s permissible under state law in New York—where, for the first time, an appellate court has affirmed the use of such a response under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
Now New York doesn’t even have to play the usual game where they keep denying your request until you make it so specific that they are no longer able to claim that the information doesn’t exist. Instead it can just tell you that it can neither confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of the information! In other words, the Freedom of Information Law is entirely useless in New York.