What information cannot be obtained through FOIA?
All agency records must be made available to the public under FOIA,
- Records properly classified as secret in the interest of national defense or
- Records related solely to internal personnel rules and practices.
- Records specifically made confidential by other statutes.
- Trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is obtained from
a person and is privileged or confidential.
- Inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters, except under certain
- Personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would
constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
- Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of
which (a) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement
proceedings, (b) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trail or impartial
adjudication, (c) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted
invasion of personal privacy, (d) could reasonably be expected to disclose the
identity of a confidential source, (e) would disclose investigative techniques,
and/or (f) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety
of any individual.
- Information contained in or related to certain examination, operating, or
condition reports concerning financial institutions.
- Certain information concerning gas or oil wells.
For a detailed discussion on how these FOIA exemptions have been interpreted
and defined by the courts, see the “Justice Department Guide to the
Freedom of Information Act.”
To get an idea how the exemptions are used by a particular agency, see that
agency’s annual FOIA report, where it tallies it use of each exemption during
that year. (The DOJ keeps all
departments’ and agencies’ annual reports on its Web site.)