Subscriber list for federal newsletter must be disclosed
OREGON–An Oregon Bureau of Land Management newsletter mailing list is public under the Freedom of Information Act, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled in late May, holding that the public has an interest in knowing to whom the government is directing information or “propaganda.”
The ruling affirmed a November 1993 decision in favor of the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) by a federal District Court in Portland, Ore. ONDA told the court it wanted to provide the people who received the BLM newsletter with more complete information.
The appeals panel rejected the government’s argument that disclosure would intrude upon the privacy of persons who, the court noted, had “affirmatively indicated their interest in receiving mailings on subjects related to ONDA’s interest in this case.”
The ONDA in August 1992 asked the Oregon BLM director for the list of recipients of the agency’s Oregon newsletter which covers BLM’s activities and plans affecting the Oregon desert. The public interest group said it wanted to learn to whom the government was sending “selected” information about the high desert so that it could provide those persons with “more complete” information. BLM denied the request and a subsequent appeal.
In an earlier case, the appellate court refused to disclose a list of people who applied for permission to river raft, saying they would be likely to become the targets of unwarranted commercial solicitation. The appeals panel distinguished that case saying those persons had not been targeted by the government to receive information about government operations.
A dissenting judge in the Oregon case said that the individuals on the newsletter list had at least a minimal privacy interest in it. The list “tells others that these are people who are interested in what happens to land that is controlled by the policies and doings of the BLM,” he said. That privacy interest is not outweighed by any public interest, he said, arguing that the information that a mailing list will give the public about what the government is up to is “minuscule or nil.” (Oregon Natural Desert Association v. Bibles; Plaintiff’s attorney: Michael Axline, Eugene, Ore.)