FOIA Update: Protecting Privacy

January 1, 1982

FOIA Update
Vol. III, No. 4
1982


Protecting Privacy

In today's complex society, the range and quantity of personal information maintained by governments about their citizens is enormous. While the maintenance and use of sensitive personal data is unquestionably necessary to the effective functioning of our Federal Government, there exists a concomitant responsibility on all government agencies to devote attention and care to the protection of individual privacy interests in such information.

The Freedom of Information Act, while promoting a spirit of general openness in government, provides specific protection for personal privacy interests through both Exemption 6 and, in the context of law enforcement records, Exemption 7(C). The importance of these two exemptions was recently emphasized by their being the subjects of the two major FOIA decisions handed down by the Supreme Court during its 1981-1982 Term: Department of State v. Washington Post Co., 102 S. Ct. 1957 (1982) (Exemption 6), and Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Abramson, 102 S. Ct. 2054 (1982) (Exemption 7(C)).

Particularly through its decision in Washington Post, the Supreme Court has revitalized the commonsense, practical approach of giving privacy considerations their full weight in the delicate balancing process by which agencies must determine whether the disclosure of personal information under the FOIA is warranted. In the wake of Washington Post, agencies can now ensure that needed protection is accorded to any "information which applies to a particular individual." 102 S. Ct. at 1961.

To highlight the protection of personal privacy interests in government information--which surely is one of the most important of agency responsibilities in their implementation of the Freedom of Information Act -- this issue of FOIA Update is devoted to the theme of protecting personal privacy under both Exemptions 6 and 7(C).

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Inside Update

The four center pages of this issue contain an updated list of the principal FOIA legal and administrative contacts at federal agencies.

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