Cameranesi v. DOD, No. 14-16432, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 17714 (9th Cir. Sept. 30, 2016) (Ikuta, J.)
Re: Records concerning "names, ranks, branches, countries of origin, lists of courses taken or taught, and/or dates and years in attendance of students, instructors, and guest instructors," as well "the military units" of students and instructors at DOD's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Disposition: Reversing district court's grant of requester's motion for summary judgment
- Exemption 6: The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holds that the requested "names are . . . exempt from disclosure under Exemption 6 of FOIA." First, regarding the privacy interest at issue, the court "conclude[s] that the affidavits and other evidence submitted by the DOD are sufficient to carry the DOD's burden to establish that disclosure of the requested information gives rise to a nontrivial risk of harassment and mistreatment." The court finds that "the evidence submitted by the DOD demonstrated that disclosure of the identities of foreign WHINSEC students and instructors could give rise to harassment, stigma, or violence as a result of their association with the United States – exactly the sorts of risks that courts have recognized as nontrivial in previous cases." The court also finds that "[t]he district court also erred in holding that the WHINSEC students and instructors lacked a nontrivial privacy interest because the DOD had not promised confidentiality." "As a legal matter, 'an assurance of confidentiality from the government' is not a necessary condition 'for the existence of a cognizable personal privacy interest under Exemption 6.'" Second, regarding the public interests at issue, the court finds that, "[a]lthough we agree there is a public interest in identifying even isolated instances of government error in performing its statutory duties, we deem the interest to be small in this context." The court relates that "[the requester] contend[s] that obtaining the identities of the WHINSEC students and instructors will allow them to discover deficiencies in the vetting process." The court also notes that "information regarding the effectiveness of the Department of State's procedures for vetting prospective trainees is available to the public through the Board of Visitors' public reports." The court also finds that the second public interest that the requester points to, "[t]he relationship between WHINSEC's obligation to provide human rights training to WHINSEC students and the subsequent conduct of foreign law enforcement or military personnel, perhaps years after their training at WHINSEC, is tenuous at best."
Judge Watford, dissenting, writes that, while "[t]he Department of Defense has shown that the . . . foreign students and instructors have a non-trivial privacy interest in keeping their identities secret," "the Department of Defense did not carry its burden of demonstrating that the students' and instructors' privacy interests outweigh the strong public interest in disclosure of their names." Judge Watford argues that, without the benefit of knowing the names, "the public must simply take the government's word for it that the reform measures mandated by Congress have been effective."