Watermelons and National Security: Protecting U.S. Foreign Intelligence Collection from Unnecessary Disclosure

In 1966, Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to create a legal regime under which the American public could gain access to information about its government’s activities. In keeping with Justice Brandeis’s observation that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” FOIA has become an invaluable tool in forcing information of national interest into the open, and of revealing instances of government waste, fraud, and abuse.

Despite the general ethic of openness, FOIA exempts, among other things, national security (i.e. classified) information, trade secrets and commercial or financial information, information related solely to the internal personnel rules of an agency, and personnel and medical files. In addition, FOIA exempts information “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3) (such statutes are referred to as “Exemption 3” statutes). Continue…