Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW - Freedom of Information Act: Ban on Releasing Names of Foreigners Trained by United States Military - Cameranesi V. United States Dep't of Defense

Academic journal article Suffolk Transnational Law Review

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW - Freedom of Information Act: Ban on Releasing Names of Foreigners Trained by United States Military - Cameranesi V. United States Dep't of Defense

Article excerpt

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW--Freedom of Information Act: Ban on Releasing Names of Foreigners Trained by United States Military--Cameranesi v. United States Dep't of Defense, 856 F.3d 626 (9th Cir. 2017).

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires federal agencies to release records of their practices, rules, procedures, and opinions to the general public upon request. (1) This statute is designed to provide the public with any information it requests from any federal agency. (2) FOIA contains nine exemptions regarding information that cannot be released to the public, some of which include trade secrets, personnel and medical files, and inter-agency memoranda. (3) In Cameranesi v. United States Department of Defense, (4) the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals contemplated whether releasing the names of foreign students and instructors trained by the United States Military at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), for the purposes of monitoring these individuals, constituted an invasion of privacy. (5) The Ninth Circuit applied a two-step test weighing a person's privacy rights with the public's rights to gather information and determined that releasing the names of the foreign students and instructors at WHINSEC is an invasion of privacy, despite the danger these individuals may pose. (6)

In 1946, the United States government opened the United States Army School of Americas (SOA), which later became known as WHINSEC, to provide Latin Americans with military training and education. (7) In 1989, nineteen Salvadoran soldiers who were once trained at WHINSEC killed six innocent Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and the housekeeper's sixteen year old child in the Salvadoran Civil War. (8) Many human rights advocacy groups demanded the release of the names of all individuals trained at WHINSEC, a request which the Department of Defense granted in 1994. (9) The United States government enacted the Leahy Amendments which regulate the training provided to foreign soldiers. (10) After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Department of Defense issued a memorandum instructing all branches of the Department of Defense to withhold any identifying information of soldiers in order to protect them; however the Department of Defense continued releasing names through 2004. (11)

On March 1, 2011, Theresa Cameranesi and Judith Liteky (Plaintiffs), members of a human rights group dedicated to keeping a close eye on the graduates of WHINSEC and for closing down such institutions, put in a FOIA request to the United States Department of Defense requesting the names of all students and instructors trained at WHINSEC between 2005 and 2010. (12) The United States Department of Defense denied this request in part by sending records, but withholding the names of the students and instructors, citing to Exemption 6 to FOIA, which exempts the release of personnel files and medical records. (13) After an unsuccessful administrative appeal by the Plaintiffs, they filed an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California claiming that the United States Department of Defense violated their duty under FOIA to disclose records requested by the public. (14) The Department of Defense argued that the information that was requested fell under the sixth exemption under FOIA and presented an affidavit from the Public Affairs Specialist of the school in support of their argument to withhold such information. (15) Motions for summary judgment were filed by both parties. (16)

The district court granted the plaintiffs' request for summary judgment. (17) In its opinion, the district court found that the Department of Defense failed to establish that the foreign students and instructors at WHINSEC had a privacy interest since their names were always released to the public prior to 2004 and that these individuals were never promised confidentiality. …

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