Friday, February 12, 2010

Ninth Circuit Rejects Lobbyist Privacy Claim in FOIA Request

The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....Image via Wikipedia
In Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Justice (Case No. 09-17235), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this week rejected an invasion of privacy defense to a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request for disclosure of the identities of telecommunications companies' lobbyists.

 The EFF sought disclosure of the identities of lobbyists who successfully persuaded Congress to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that were involved in the government's warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans' phone calls carried out by the National Security Agency post 9/11. In affirming in part, and reversing in part, the ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote: "There is a clear public interest in public knowledge of the methods through which well-connected corporate lobbyists wield their influence."

The EFF in the past attempted to learn which telecommunications companies participated in the NSA surveillance program, but the companies were granted immunity from the FOIA requests.  Although it dismissed the lobbyist privacy argument, the 9th Circuit decision ordered the trial court to review the information sought by the EEF to determine whether it should be exempt from disclosure under the FOIA for other reasons, such as national security interests.

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