Every journalist who requests records from the federal government through the Freedom of Information Act should be familiar with its administrative appeals process. Unfortunately, for various reasons, federal agencies at times fail to adhere to FOIA’s disclosure requirements. When this occurs, journalists are not without recourse. They can appeal adverse decisions to higher authorities within an agency and often must in order to enforce their rights.
The Jewish Daily Forward sought records from the New York City health department regarding mohels who have given babies herpes during, as the paper reported, "the performance of metzitzah b’peh, a controversial circumcision rite used by some ultra-Orthodox men, in which the mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound with direct oral to genital contact." Some of the rabbis involved in this practice are refusing to give parents a consent form required by law. The case centers on the privacy rights of the mohels versus the right to know about public health issues. In the case, which is on appeal to the NY Supreme Court Appellate Division, the Reporters Committee argued that the mohel had a reduced privacy interest in his identity given his professional status and that the public interest outweighed any privacy interest he had due to the grave health risks associated with the procedure.