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Shaprio v. DOJ, No. 13-0729, 2019 WL 3323411 (D.D.C. July 24, 2019) (Friedman, J.)

Date

Shaprio v. DOJ, No. 13-0729, 2019 WL 3323411 (D.D.C. July 24, 2019) (Friedman, J.)

Re:  Request for certain information concerning computer programmer

Disposition:  Granting defendant's renewed motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's renewed cross-motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  "Consistent with this Court's prior determinations, . . . the government has met the threshold requirement under Exemption 7(E)."  The court relates that "[t]he government contends, and [plaintiff] does not dispute, that [the] Serial [at issue] was 'created in connection with a sensitive counterterrorism investigation' undertaken by the FBI – an agency tasked with investigating national security threats."
     
  • Exemption 7(E):  First, the court holds that "the Court's review of the document itself supports [defendant's] assertion that the redacted information . . . reveals an investigative technique or procedure."  The court relates that "[t]he FBI's declarant . . . has expressly declared . . . that the 'FBI created [the] unit [at issue] to utilize and implement specific sensitive law enforcement techniques used in counterterrorism investigations,' . . . and the 'release of the specific unit/squad would reveal . . . the investigative technique the unit specializes in.'"  "As for the risk of circumvention of the law, [defendant] states that the disclosure of the FBI unit’s name could 'allow criminals to anticipate the use of these techniques' and 'exploit [the FBI’s investigative] weaknesses' by avoiding certain areas and targeting others to circumvent the law."  Similarly, the court finds that "[e]ven though an investigative technique is not expressly named in [another at issue] unit's name . . . reference to the unit in the context of other investigations could allow criminals to 'pinpoint the exact reason for the investigation,' and it would 'alert [them] to the type of, and level of focus on their particular activities.'"  "[T]he Court will defer to the FBI's expertise in counterterrorism and in its own law enforcement operations, . . . and conclude that the government has met the relatively low bar required in this Circuit with respect to [these withholdings] as well."

    Second, "[a]s the government indicates, the disclosure of the information withheld [concerning a database name] would forever associate the database name to the information contained in [the serial at issue] that the FBI has not withheld – namely, the type of information stored in the database and the type of investigation in which the database would be utilized."  "Thus, criminals would be able to make certain inferences when the database is referenced."  "According to the government, if a terrorist was armed with the knowledge of 'which databases are most likely to be utilized based on specific levels of terrorist-related activities or certain investigative factors,' he would then have the ability to 'predict FBI investigative strategies and enhance [his] ability to avoid detection by the FBI.'"  "These statements logically explain how knowledge of the database name could increase the risk of circumvention of the law."  "The Court therefore finds that the government has met its low burden under Exemption 7(E)."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 7(E)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Updated January 7, 2022