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Hetznecker v. NSA, No. 16-945, 2017 WL 3617107 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 23, 2017) (Schiller, J.)


Hetznecker v. NSA, No. 16-945, 2017 WL 3617107 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 23, 2017) (Schiller, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning Occupy Philly movement

Disposition:  Granting defendants' motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that, "[b]ecause the FBI employed appropriate search methods, the FBI conducted an adequate search."  The court explains that "[c]ourts have found that an FBI search of CRS files with satisfactory search terms is an adequate search."  Responding to "[plaintiff's] conten[tion] that the FBI search was inadequate because the FBI did not search for 'Occupy encampments in cities around the country[]'" the court finds that "[plaintiff's] letter indicates 'Occupy Philly' no fewer than eight times without any reference to different Occupy movements."  The court finds that, "[i]n the context of the request, 'Occupy' without more is reasonable shorthand for 'Occupy Philly[.]'"  "Without specifying other Occupy movements across the country, as in movements separate and discrete from Occupy Philly, the FBI's search terms were 'reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents.'"
  • Exemptions 6 & 7(C):  "After reviewing the documents in camera, the Court concludes that the FBI properly invoked Exemption 6."  "The FBI redacted names and identifying information of both Special Agents and support staff involved with the investigations."  "That personal information bears no relation to the FBI's 'performance of its statutory duties' and was properly withheld."  Additionally, the court finds that "the redactions are also proper under Exemption 7(C)."
  • Exemption 7(D):  "After in camera review, the Court holds that the FBI properly redacted information covered by Exemption 7(D)."  "The FBI redacted the unique identifying number of their confidential source, which could be used to ascertain the confidential source's identity."  "If FOIA required the FBI to disclose confidential source numbers, several FOIA requests across multiple investigations could be used to discern the identity of the confidential source."  "The FBI also redacted information from the confidential source because the nature of that information could be used to discover the identity of the source."
  • Exemption 7(E):  "After conducting in camera review, the Court holds the FBI properly redacted the documents pursuant to Exemption 7(E)."  "[Certain] database identifiers could reasonably be used to 'create a risk of circumvention of the law.'"  "While information about individual units and sensitive case file numbers may not create the same risk in a vacuum, repeated disclosures of the information across a range of investigations would allow suspects to piece together a more complete picture of the FBI investigation."
  • Exemption 1, Glomar:  "The Court ordered the Intelligence Agencies to conduct searches for responsive records, to compile Vaughn Indices, regardless of whether or not the searches returned any responsive records, and to submit the Vaughn Indices for in camera review."  "The Intelligence Agencies complied and submitted their Vaughn Indices to the Court for in camera review."  "After reviewing the two Vaughn Indices, the Court is satisfied the Intelligence Agencies properly invoked a Glomar response."  "The existence or nonexistence of the Intelligence Agencies' responsive documents to [plaintiffs] request falls within the scope of Exemption 1."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 1
Exemption 6
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7(D)
Exemption 7(E)
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Updated December 13, 2021