The Freedom of Information Act generally provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, of access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions thereof) are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions, or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.
Exemption 1 – Protects from disclosure information that has been deemed classified “under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy” and is “in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive order.”
Exemption 2 – Protects records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
Exemption 3 – Protects information exempted from release by statute.
Exemption 4 – Protects trade secrets and commercial or financial information which could harm the competitive posture or business interests of a company.
Exemption 5 – Protects the integrity of the deliberative or policy-making processes within the agency by exempting from mandatory disclosure opinion, conclusions, and recommendations included within inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters.
Exemption 6 – Protects information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the individuals involved.
Exemption 7 – Protects records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes the release of which could reasonably be expected:
7(A) – to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
7(B) – would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication.
7(C) – to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of a third party/parties (in some instances by revealing an investigative interest in them).
7(D) – to disclose the identity/identities of confidential sources.
7(E) – would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
7(F) – to endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.
Exemption 8 – Protects information that is contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
Exemption 9 – Protects geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.
Congress has provided special protection in the FOIA for three narrow categories of law enforcement and national security records. The provisions protecting those records are known as “exclusions.”
Whenever a request involves access to records described in subsection (b)(7)(A) and
a. the investigation or proceeding involves a possible violation of criminal law; and
b. there is reason to believe that
i. the subject of the investigation or proceeding is not aware of its pendency, and
ii. disclosure of the existence of the records could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, the agency may, during only such time as that circumstance continues, treat the records as not subject to the requirements of this section.
The second exclusion applies to a narrower situation, involving the threatened identification of confidential informants in criminal proceedings.
Whenever informant records maintained by a criminal law enforcement agency under an informant’s name or personal identifier are requested by a third party according to the informant’s name or personal identifier, the agency may treat the records as not subject to the requirements of the FOIA unless the informant’s status as an informant has been officially confirmed.
The third of these special record exclusions pertains only to certain law enforcement records that are maintained by the FBI.
Whenever a request is made which involves access to records maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation pertaining to foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism, and the existence of the records is classified information as provided in Exemption 1, the Bureau may, as long as the existence of the records remains classified information, treat the records as not subject to the requirements of the FOIA.