FedSoc Blog

FBI Can Keep Race Data From ACLU, Third Circuit Says


by Publius
Posted October 23, 2013, 2:47 PM

According to Bloomberg News:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation can withhold data from a civil liberties group on its use of ethnic and racial information, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia ruled.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the FBI in May 2011 under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking records that included the use of race and ethnicity by six field offices in New Jersey in conducting investigations. The appeals court upheld a trial judge’s finding that the information the ACLU sought was exempt from disclosure requirements.

“We conclude that the district court did not err in concluding that if an exclusion was employed, it was and remains amply justified,” the court said in a unanimous decision.

The ACLU sought the records as part of an initiative called “Mapping the FBI,” prompted by the group’s concern that the U.S. attorney general’s 2008 revised guide for domestic probes would encourage unlawful racial profiling.

The initiative included a series of coordinated requests on the bureau’s use of racial data. The FBI eventually released 312 of 782 pages of responsive records. It withheld 284 pages as exempt, according to court records. The rest were considered duplicative.

The Freedom of Information Act, which requires the government to make non-exempt records available promptly to anyone who asks for them, was designed to facilitate public access to government documents, the appeals court said. Exemptions are allowed for records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes to the extent that production of such documents would interfere with enforcement efforts.
‘Contradictory Evidence’

The appeals court rejected the ACLU’s argument questioning “contradictory evidence” behind that the FBI’s assertion that the disclosure posed risks to national security.

Declarations filed in the case by FBI personnel “explain exactly how disclosure of the requested ethnic and demographic data in each withheld document would interfere with enforcement proceedings: by revealing the target or focus of the FBI’s investigatory efforts,” the court said.

“It is hard to imagine how the FBI could provide a more detailed justification for withholding information under this exemption without compromising the very information it sought to protect,” the court said.

The harm from disclosure lies in indirectly revealing the FBI’s investigative techniques and not the demographic information that is already publicly available, the court said.

Katie Wang, a spokeswoman for the ACLU in New Jersey, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.

The case is ACLU v. FBI, 12-4345, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia).

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