Privacy Trumps Right to Know

By Mauro, Tony | The Quill, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Privacy Trumps Right to Know


Mauro, Tony, The Quill


Privacy won out over the public's right to know in a Freedom of Information Act case decided by the Supreme Court in March.

The decision drew little attention when issued, perhaps because the quirky facts of the case may have appeared inapplicable to broader issues of freedom of information.

The court, citing privacy concerns, denied a request by California lawyer Allan Favish for government death-scene photographs of former Clinton Administration White House aide Vince Foster.

But the ruling in National Archives and Records Administration v. Favish may prove one of the most harmful FOIA decisions in years for the media and others seeking government documents. It strengthens the hand of government agencies seeking to invoke privacy as a reason not to release government information.

A Justice Department analysis of the decision advised other agencies that it "encompasses a full range of privacy-protection considerations ... that can guide future FOIA decision making." The analysis also noted that under the decision, Foster's status as a public figure and prominent government official did not lessen his - or his family's - claim to privacy.

"In the future, other potential beneficiaries of the FOIA's privacy exemptions should be no less entitled too such treatment," the government memo stated.

Favish, a California lawyer with a longstanding interest in the 1993 death of Clinton White House aide Vince Foster, originally filed the case. Even though five investigations have determined that Foster, then deputy White House counsel, died by suicide, Favish and others have questioned that conclusion.

He sought government photos of Foster's body taken at a park in Virginia. The Office of Independent Counsel for the Whitewater and other Clinton-era investigations held the photos. It denied the request, and Foster's family also intervened in the litigation to stop their release. When the independent counsel wound down its operations in early 2004, the National Archives got the photos.

Whereas traditionally, FOIA requesters do not need to explain why they seek certain documents, the court's ruling requires that when privacy interests come into play, "the requester must produce evidence that would warrant a belief by a reasonable person that the alleged government impropriety might have occurred."

That new standard brought swift objections from open government advocates.

"The new requirement that requesters must show evidence of government wrongdoing before such records will be released will almost surely prevent reporters and other interested citizens from investigating suspicious deaths," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "I don't know how you can expect requesters to prove a negative before they are entitled to a record under the Freedom of Information Act."

The FOIA, long a valued tool for the press and the public, nonetheless allows government agencies to withhold documents for a variety of specific reasons.

Under exemption 7(C), the government may refuse to disclose materials that could, if released, cause an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Privacy Trumps Right to Know
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.