Q: An anonymous requestor submitted a request pursuant to the Public Information Act for communications between two District administrators. May the District require the requestor to present identification before obtaining the requested information?
A: Generally, no. A school district cannot unilaterally refuse to provide information simply because a requestor does not identify him/herself or otherwise provide identification; however, in limited circumstances, a school district may submit arguments to the Attorney General to show that a special right of access exists with respect to the information.
The issue of requiring identification was first addressed by the Texas Attorney General (“AG”) in an open records opinion published in 2016. In that case, the Angelina County Judge received a request for a settlement agreement involving a named individual and the County. The Judge argued, in part, that the request was invalid because the requestor did not provide identification but instead supplied only an email address. The Attorney General disagreed.
Importantly, the AG noted that the Judge could not unilaterally refuse to supply responsive information on the basis of identification; specifically, it stated, “failure to provide identification under section 552.222 is not grounds for a governmental body to refuse to respond to a request for public information.” Instead, if a governmental body wants to withhold information due to a requestor’s lack of identification, it must submit arguments to the Attorney General establishing that a “special right of access” exists with respect to the information. This special right of access applies in only limited situations, however, including requests for (1) a motor vehicle record, (2) a photograph taken by an appraisal district for property tax appraisal purposes that shows interior improvements, or (3) a police report when the requestor is the crime victim.
Thus, while a governmental body may “ask” a requestor to establish proper identification in some circumstances, it cannot unilaterally require identification. If a requestor refused to provide such identification or did not respond, then the school district’s only remaining options are to (1) release the information or (2) submit arguments to the Attorney General, if a special right of access argument can be made in good faith
In sum, unless the District could show (and receive a ruling) that the responsive communications fall within the special right of access exception, the District would not be able to withhold responsive documentation on the basis that the requestor is anonymous or did not otherwise supply identification. Of course, the District could always raise another exception to withhold the communications, such as 552.101 common law privacy, but this is separate and apart from any identification requirement. For specific questions related to the Texas Public Information Act, please contact your local school attorney.