The identities of lobbyists who successfully obtained immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the warrantless wiretapping scandal should be disclosed so long as they are not protected by national security law, a U.S. Court of Appeal in San Francisco (9th Cir.) said on Wednesday when it asked the lower court to reconsider whether the information should be released.
The decision was the latest in a multiyear effort by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to uncover first the telecommunications companies that participated in the National Security Agency’s surveillance of Americans’ phone calls, and then, after those companies were given retroactive immunity from the Freedom of Information Act in 2008, the identity of the lobbyists who had been credited in media accounts as working behind the scenes to obtain immunity. EFF filed FOIA requests with the Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence for information on contacts with the companies’ representatives during that time.
"Today’s ruling is an important one for government and corporate accountability," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann in a release. "The court recognized that paid lobbyists trying to influence the government to advance their clients’ interests can’t hide behind privacy claims to keep their efforts secret."
Though the appeals court made it clear that disclosing the identities would not be an invasion of personal privacy, it said the lower court should review the information to decide whether it should be exempt from disclosure for other reasons. There are exemptions that protect intelligence sources and methods used by the National Security Agency, for example.