Maps Spur Supreme Court Ruling on Freedom of Information Act

by Matt Ball on March 7, 2011

In a ruling Monday in the case Milner v. Department of the Navy, 09-1163, the Supreme Court ruled that the government can’t withhold data and maps from Freedom of Information Act requests related to Exemption 2. The 8-1 ruling went against the Navy’s decision to withhold maps that showed the extent of damage expected from an explosion at an ammunition dump in western Washington.

The court ruled that withholding maps and data that depict the hypothetical blast perimeter of the ammunition depot can’t be related to Exemption 2 of the Freedom of Information Act that deals with “personnel rules and practices.” The ruling indicated that although such an exemption has existed for more than 30 years in similar cases, that shielding documents “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency” doesn’t apply here.

The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Navy, cautioning that disclosure of this information could be used to “wreak havoc” and “make catastrophe more likely.” The supreme court instead suggests that in cases where information protection is related to safety and security that other government tools to shield national security information be used.

You can read Justice Kagan’s full court opinion on this case here.

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