Exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act

The United States Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a directive that ensures public access to US government records. But the FOIA, akin to any law, is not without limitations. The FOIA’s limitations, in the form of its nine exemptions, see to it that the people’s “right to know” is not at the expense of their right to privacy. Exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) The United States Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a directive that ensures public access to US government records.

The FOIA operates on the premise that all US government records can be made available to the public upon written request. Should the government withhold certain information from the public, the former is required to come up with a valid justification for the denial. This rationalization must fall under one of the nine specific exemptions in the FOIA (GWU. edu, 2008). Classified Documents The FOIA prohibits public access to properly classified documents.

In the context of the FOIA, “properly classified documents” refer to information that was classified to preserve the interests of national defense or foreign policy. A document can be withheld from disclosure, provided that it has been properly classified under a presidential Executive Order. The Executive Order on Security Classification has a special procedure for the declassification of documents (HRSA, n. d. ). Internal Personnel Rules and Practices Matters that are related solely to an agency’s internal personnel rules and practices fall under this exemption.

A trivial administrative concern of no genuine public interest, such as a rule governing lunch hours for agency employees, is an example. In addition, internal administrative manuals may be withheld from the public if its disclosure will result in the violation of law or agency regulations (HRSA, n. d. ). Information Exempt under Other Laws This exemption covers laws that restrict the availability of information. For this information to take effect, the statute must meet certain criteria for withholding specific information to the public.

Alternatively, the statute must leave no discretion to the agency from which the information that is going to be withheld from the public came from. Examples of qualifying statutes are prohibitions on the disclosure of tax returns, tax return information and identifiable census data to the public (HRSA, n. d. ). Confidential Business Information The fourth exemption protects trade secrets or commercially valuable formulas, plans, devices and processes. Commercial or financial information obtained from a person other than a government agency is likewise protected (HRSA, n. d. ).

Internal Government Communications The fifth exemption is applicable to internal government documents. Examples of internal government documents are privileged inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters (SEC. gov, 1999). This exemption was created in order to protect the government’s deliberative policymaking process. When internal government documents are withheld from the public, frank discussion of policy matters between agency officials is encouraged. Furthermore, premature disclosure of policies before final adoption is prevented (HSRA, n. d. ).