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The Freedom of Information Act and Nondisclosure Provisions in Other Federal Laws

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Congressional research rept.

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Congress continues to consider how to balance the federal governments growing need for sensitive or confidential business information, the publics right of access to information about government activities, and the private sectors interest in keeping its sensitive or proprietary information protected from public disclosure. In enacting the Freedom of Information Act FOIA, 5 U.S.C. section 552, Congress sought to balance the right of the public to know and the need of the government to protect certain information. FOIAs broad provisions favoring disclosure, coupled with the specific exemptions, represent the balance Congress achieved. The federal FOIA is an information access statute enacted in 1966 that applies to agency records of the executive branch of the federal government. FOIA requires that certain types of records be published in the Federal Register, that certain types of records be made available for public inspection and copying, and that all other records be subject to request in writing. Exemption 3 of FOIA provides that in order for a federal law other than FOIA to qualify as a withholding statute, it must require that information be withheld or permit information to be withheld by particular statutory criteria or permit information to be withheld based upon a statutory reference to particular types of information and must specifically cite to Exemption 3. Courts have taken different approaches over whether the withholding criteria in nondisclosure statutes should be construed narrowly, consistent with FOIAs strong preference for disclosure, or broadly, consistent with the deferential standards of administrative law. Congress has enacted legislative exemptions from FOIA to provide assurance that private information submitted to government agencies will not be disclosed or will only be disclosed in limited situations. Generally, the legislation has exempted covered information from disclosure under FOIA.

Subject Categories:

  • Information Science
  • Sociology and Law

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