Attorney General: Honorable Joxel Garcia, M.D., Commissioner of Public Health, 2001-004 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

February 8, 2001

Honorable Joxel Garcia, M.D.
Commissioner of Public Health
410 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06134

Dear Commissioner Garcia:

This is in response to the request for advice from your department as to the proper interpretation of P.A. 00-139. Section 1(b) of the act provides subject to certain specified exceptions,1 that "(no) state agency may disclose to the public an individual’s photograph or computerized image in connection with the issuance of an identification card or other document by such state agency, unless such individual has provided his or her express consent for such disclosure." "‘Disclose’ means to engage in any practice or conduct to make available and make known, by any means of communication, information pertaining to an individual to any other individual, organization or entity." P.A. 00-139, § 1(a)(1).

You inform us that applicants for licensure by the Department of Public Health (Department) are required to provide photographs as part of the application process; licensure files are available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-200 et. seq., and requests for access can involve the review of a single file or thousands. You ask whether or not P.A. 00-139 forbids the disclosure of the photographs of the applicants that are contained in these files without the consent of the applicant. The act indeed prohibits such disclosure without consent except to those entities and in those circumstances set forth in the Public Act.

The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature, and the initial guide is the language in the statute itself. Kudlacz v. Lindberg Heat & Treating Co., 250 Conn. 581, 587, (1999). If the language of the statute is plain and unambiguous, one need look no further than the words actually used, as it is assumed that the language expresses the legislature’s intent. State v. DeFrancesco, 235 Conn. 426, 435 (1995). P.A. 00-139 plainly and unambiguously prohibits any state agency from disclosing an individual's photograph secured in connection with the issuance of any document by the agency without the express consent of the individual, unless the recipient falls within one of the enumerated exceptions. Since the Department obtains photographs from applicants as a precondition to issuing licenses to them, P.A. 00-139 clearly applies.

Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, reference to its history and purpose is unnecessary. State v. Johnson, 227 Conn. 534, 542, (1993). Nevertheless, the legislative history of P.A. 00-139 also supports its applicability to the photographs in question. In remarking on the underlying bill, Representative Knopp stated that “the purpose of the [bill] is to establish a strict standard requiring the express consent of any individual affected before the release of that person’s photograph or digital image by the state can be done.” 43 Conn. H.R. Proc. pt. 12, 2000 Sess. 004033 (April 27, 2000) (remarks of Rep. Knopp). Senator Bozek similarly observed that "the bill prohibits state agencies from disclosing [photographs] without the consent of the individuals in writing." 43 Conn. Sen. Proc., pt. 7, 2000 Sess. 002092-3 (May 1, 2000) (remarks of Sen. Bozek). Therefore, under the plain terms of P.A. 00-139, and consistent with the intent of the legislature, photographs of non consenting individuals may not be disclosed to the public pursuant to a Freedom of Information request except in those circumstances where disclosure is specifically authorized by the Public Act.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Paul J. Lahey
Assistant Attorney General

RB/PJL/nda


1Consent is not required for disclosure in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative or arbitral proceeding in any court or government agency or before any self-regulatory body, including the service of process, an investigation in anticipation of litigation, a law enforcement investigation, and the execution or enforcement of judgments and orders, pursuant to an order of any court provided the requesting party is a party in interest to such proceeding or pursuant to chapter 969 of the general statutes.


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