The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has upheld a district court’s ruling that certain information relating to terrorist organizations is not disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center (“The Center”) submitted to the Department of Homeland Security a FOIA request for information related to the names of terrorist organizations categorized by the U.S. Government as “Tier III” organizations. The Center, which provides assistance to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, hoped to obtain this information in order to discredit the inclusion of organizations that it believed were not terrorist groups in a list of such groups. The government refused to provide the Tier III list, and the Center sued.
Tier III organizations are statutorily defined as “any group of two or more people that engage in terrorist activity . . . even if their terrorist activity is conducted exclusively against regimes that are enemies of the United States.” The district court ruled that this information was exempt from disclosure through FOIA by the Act’s 7(E) exemption, which embraces “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information . . . would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”
The circuit court agreed, finding that the information requested here went to “the heart of the exemption,” wherein the government is authorized not to “disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.” If the information were disclosed, the court reasoned, any member of one of these terrorist organizations would have a strong incentive to lie about it in dealings with the government, rendering the interrogation of any alien seeking entry into the United States less effectual.
Case: Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Case No. 16-1840 (October 21, 2016).
Originally published in Criminal Legal News on December 12, 2017.