Thursday, September 24, 2009

Working With The Exemptions to The Freedom of Information Act by Jacqueline Klosek

Today's guest blogger is Jacqueline Klosek, author of The Right to Know: Your Guide to Using and Defending Freedom of Information Law in the United States.

The Right to Know is a resource book for citizens seeking to understand, use, and defend their right to know their rights under the freedom of information laws in the United States. It educes practical lessons from dozens of case studies of how the reader can use our freedom of information laws in order to protect the environment, public health and safety and to expose governmental and corporate crime, waste, and corruption.

Working With The Exemptions to The Freedom of Information Act by Jacqueline Klosek

In my recently published book, The Right to Know, I examine the role of freedom of information laws, including, primarily, the federal Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). I explore the provisions of the FOIA and examine its application, showing how the FOIA has and can be used to uncover information in the following main areas: (i) protecting the environment; (ii) protecting human health; (iii) protecting safety; (iv) fighting corruption and government waste; and (v) protecting human rights and civil liberties. In addition to exploring these examples, I offer information and tips as to how people may use the FOIA and similar state laws to obtain information from the government about issues that are important to them.

The general premise of the FOIA is that information held by the government should be accessible by the public. There are, however, exemptions to this general right of access. There are nine main exemptions: (1) classified matters of national defense or foreign policy; (2) internal personnel rules and practices; (3) information specifically exempted by other statutes; (4) trade secrets, commercial or financial information; (5) privileged interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters; (6) personal information affecting an individual's privacy; (7) investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes; (8) records of financial institutions; and (9) geographical and geophysical information concerning wells.

Recently, legislators had been considering an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act to include “terrorist identity information” as another exemption to the FOIA. This would be an unnecessary addition to an already broad list of exemptions and, fortunately, efforts to add yet another exemption failed when on September 16, 2009, the US Senate unanimously passed the Intelligence Authorization Act without amending the FOIA exemptions.

The FOIA is a very powerful tool of which all citizens should be aware. By virtue of the FOIA and similar state laws, citizens are able to access information from the government that they can then use to protect themselves, their families and their communities. The current exemptions to the FOIA are already very broad and can detract from some of the power and effectiveness of the FOIA. Individuals are thus advised to make themselves aware of the exemptions and learn how to work with them to ensure that, notwithstanding the exemptions, they will still be able to effectively pursue their right to know.

Jacqueline Klosek is Senior Counsel with Goodwin Procter LLP and is the author of the recently published, The Right to Know. She is the author of three other books (War on Privacy; The Legal Guide to eBusiness; and Data Privacy in the Information Age) and is currently working on a fifth book, a work that will examine privacy in health information. Klosek may be reached at: or through her web site at:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I was not aware that the FOIA was subject to so many exceptions.