What We Did and How We Did It

In January of 2019, Reclaim The Records obtained copies of approximately two years of the daily Microsoft Outlook calendars for several New York City employees working at the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS). These calendars included the lists of all meetings they had taken, whether in person or by conference call or other method, and with whom.

We discovered many interesting things in these calendars, including that the Commissioner of DORIS, Pauline Toole, and several other staffers, had been having multiple meetings with the tech company Google about a previously unpublicized and unknown project. Note that DORIS is the parent agency of the New York City Municipal Archives, one of the biggest and oldest public historical and genealogical record archives in the United States.

One calendar entry referred to a meeting with Google representatives about a “research project.” Another showed a meeting between a staff attorney for DORIS and Google’s own legal department at Google’s New York office, during which they then met via videoconference with Google’s legal department in California. And there were several other mentions of a Google “agreement”. Most interestingly, in October 2017, there was an explicit mention of “Google NDA” in a calendar entry — presumably meaning a Non-Disclosure Agreement of some sort, between a New York City agency and Google, which to our knowledge, had never been disclosed to the public nor reported in the press.

Why were New York City bureaucrats signing a secret deal with Google? What was this “research agreement”? We decided to find out.

In January 2019, less than a week after we received the calendar copies, we submitted a Freedom of Information request through New York City’s OpenRecords portal, directed to DORIS. Although far more than the legally mandated twenty business days have now passed since our request, Reclaim The Records still has not received a formal response nor any records from the city, just several extensions of the projected date by which they promise to tell us more. The most recent date that DORIS has provided for a response to our request is July 25, 2019. We’ll see what turns up.

Here’s the full text of the FOIL request we sent to the city:

FOIL-2019-860-00035

Title:
All DORIS agreements and communications with and/or about the Google “research project”

Description:
To Whom It May Concern:

Acting on behalf of the non-profit organization Reclaim The Records, and pursuant to the New York State Freedom of Information Law (1977 N.Y. Laws ch. 933), I hereby request the following records:

I am requesting copies of all correspondence, e-mails, proposals, drafts, notes, agreements, contracts, meetings and calendar entries, phone logs, meeting minutes, budget items, receipts, vendorization forms or data, bids, evaluation materials, Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) records requests and their associated correspondence and any appeals, and any other documentation or communications between any members of the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) and Google, or within DORIS about Google.

To further aid in your search and records production, this request explicitly includes all materials associated with the mentions of “Google” in the official calendars of DORIS Commissioner Pauline Toole, Assistant Commissioner Ken Cobb, and DORIS attorney Lisa Velasquez, among others at DORIS, particularly those in the records management division and in the legal department. Meetings about a Google “research project” [sic] appear several times on their official calendars, as well as a “Google Agreement” [sic] and a “Google NDA” [sic] — which presumably refers to a non-disclosure agreement between DORIS and Google. (We would like to remind DORIS that NDA’s are not exempt under FOIL.)

We are requesting all of these materials for all dates between January 1, 2015 up through the date that this FOIL request is processed, inclusive.

In the event that there are fees, please inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer that this request be filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or USB hard drive if not. The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

If any clarification is necessary, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to your response within five days, as required by the law.

Sincerely,

Brooke Schreier Ganz
President and Founder, Reclaim The Records
https://www.ReclaimTheRecords.org/

We’ll keep you updated about what we find out. And we are ready to go to court for the records, if needed.

Paperwork and Court Filings

Documents related to this request are coming soon.

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Reclaim The Records vs. New York State Department of Health