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Freedom Watch, Inc. v. NSA, No. 12-1088, 2014 WL 2768849 (D.D.C. June 12, 2014) (Cooper, J.)


Freedom Watch, Inc. v. NSA, No. 12-1088, 2014 WL 2768849 (D.D.C. June 12, 2014) (Cooper, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning 2012 New York Times article discussing U.S. cyber-attack on Iran

Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that "[t]he State Department has demonstrated that it conducted an adequate search for records responsive to [plaintiff’s] FOIA request."  The court finds that defendant's "declarations indicate the places that were searched and explain why the Department determined that those records systems were likely to contain responsive documents."  Additionally, the court finds that "the State Department has met its burden by conducting searches that were reasonably calculated to find responsive records, regardless of whether the records were found initially or after subsequent searches."  The court also finds that plaintiff's "speculative, unsupported assertions," "lacking any evidentiary support, are insufficient to contradict the comprehensive description of the search set forth in [defendant's] declarations."  Finally, despite plaintiff taking issue with the practice, the court finds that "[t]he practice of redacting non-responsive materials from documents produced in response to FOIA requests has been approved by courts in this Circuit."
  • Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index / Declaration:  The court notes that "'[a]n agency does not have to provide an index per se, but can satisfy its burden by other means, such as ... providing a detailed affidavit or declaration.'"  The court finds that "[t]he descriptions in [defendant's] declaration 'give the reviewing court a reasonable basis to evaluate the claim of privilege,' . . . and thus adequately support the State Department's withholdings."
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege:  The court notes that "[p]ursuant to Exemption 5, the State Department withheld portions of three documents and all of one document because they contained briefing material for senior department officials with 'preliminary thoughts and ideas determined to be important for preparing [the] senior official[s] for an interview with a journalist from a major news media organization.'"  The court holds that "[b]ecause these documents reflect intra-agency deliberations on communications with the media, they fall within the deliberative process privilege and are covered under Exemption 5."
  • Exemption 6:  The court notes that "[t]he State Department withheld information in 17 documents provided to Freedom Watch pursuant to Exemption 6 because the redacted information consisted of personal email addresses, phone numbers, and details of individuals' personal lives."  The court finds that "[s]uch 'purely personal information' clearly falls within Exemption 6."


Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index/Declarations
Updated February 2, 2022