The Explosives Next Door

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Q: I became concerned about the Navy’s operations on an island near my home.  The Navy keeps weapons, ammunition, and explosives on this island.  I made a FOIA request for maps and other data.  My request has been rejected.

A: In a FOIA case, the courts seek a workable balance between the interests of the public in greater access to information and the needs of the Government to protect certain kinds of information from disclosure.

Where the documents consist of records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes – and release would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations, or could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual – exemption clearly applies.

In the case of information that is not compiled for law enforcement purposes – such as building plans, computer passwords, credit card numbers, or safe deposit combinations – the Government often has the option of engaging in the time-consuming process of classifying documents that should remain private.  (Granted, that approach can lead to over-classification – interfering with accurate, actionable, and timely information sharing, increasing the cost of information security, and needlessly limiting access.)

Generally, the Government may classify material even after receiving a FOIA request; an agency therefore may wait until that time to decide whether the dangers of disclosure outweigh the costs of classification.

On what grounds did the Navy decline to release the maps and other data?  So long as the records’ release will not threaten the Nation’s vital interests, a court might well take your side.

By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial

The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

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