Exemption 10

Introducing Exemption 10: How FOIA works

Posted: March 3, 2011 | Tags: FOIA, Freedom of Information, open government

The Investigative Reporting Workshop is launching “Exemption 10,” a new blog devoted to covering issues relating to freedom of information and open government. Our primary focus will be on FOIA at the federal level.

First, let’s explain the name, “Exemption10.” The Freedom of Information Act, first passed in 1966, contains nine exemptions that give agencies the power to withhold information. But 45 years of experience show that it often seems there is an unwritten 10th exemption, which can be broadly characterized as, “We don’t want to give it to you.”

As the name might imply, we are going to pay particular attention to the frustrations that journalists and others encounter when they try to use FOIA. However, we want to acknowledge, up front, that many committed public servants throughout government are doing their best to comply with both the letter and spirit of the law. We will highlight their efforts, as well.

We expect to write about case studies (we’d love to hear from you), to discuss court cases dealing with FOIA, to highlight and aggregate coverage from other sources, and to be involved with the FOIA community in Washington and beyond.

And just so there is no confusion, Exemption 10 and the Investigative Reporting Workshop will be strong advocates for government openness. It is the one subject where we believe it is not only appropriate, but also necessary, for news organizations to be deeply involved in the shaping of public policy.

We’d like to help create an even stronger community around this vital issue, which means we’d like your comments, suggestions, case studies and ideas. You can follow us on Twitter @irworkshop or send us email.

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iFOIA's new site features tracking

Since 1996 the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has offered a free letter-generating service to provide users with the correct language and structure for FOIA requests. Over the past year the committee looked for ways to expand this tool to better serve reporters. In recognition of the fact that a single investigation can require hundreds of FOIA requests, they sought to make it easier for journalists to track and organize records requests.

“Reporters are always trying to remember where they’ve submitted requests, how much time has passed since they made the request and who they need to follow up with,” said Emily Grannis of the new ifOIA website.

Privacy vs. the public's right to know

Scholars and watchdog groups say the federal government — and the Supreme Court — have slowly expanded privacy rights beyond the guidelines established in FOIA. Supreme Court decisions in five FOIA cases shed light on how the government came to value privacy interests over the public’s right to know.

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