agency may not rely on "unsubstantiated speculation about possible secondary effects of disclosure" or "the mere potential for invasion of privacy" in justifying a refusal to disclose information based on Exemption 6. Id. See also Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. at 380 n.19 (Exemption 6 directed at threats to privacy interests more palpable than mere possibilities); Arieff v. Dep't of the Navy, 229 U.S. App. D.C. 430, 712 F.2d 1462, 1468 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (production of documents, not secondary effects of release, must be the source of invasion of privacy). Indeed, in Arieff, the Court of Appeals noted that while the release of agency information might subject the agency head to irate telephone calls at his home, such a secondary effect is not the sort of invasion of privacy that can support an Exemption 6 claim. 712 F.2d at 1468.
Finally, there is at least some evidence which casts doubt on the validity of defendant's prediction that most annuitants would be annoyed by contact from plaintiff. The record indicates that approximately half of plaintiff's current membership, or some quarter of a million people, joined the association during the period it conducted blind mailings. While the Court does not know how many of these people joined because of the solicitation, or how many were contacted altogether, this considerable figure suggests that a substantial percentage of annuitants would welcome information about plaintiff and consider such information a personal benefit.
Be that as it may, this circuit has recognized only a slight privacy interest in a person's name and address, and has discounted, if not ignored altogether, the possible secondary effects that the release of such information might have on the addressee. Unless the release of names and addresses, standing alone, will embarrass the individuals involved, this circuit has determined that the information is entitled to little protection.
Against the relatively minor privacy interest, then, the Court must weigh the public interest in disclosure. Department of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. at 372. While defendant suggests that the public interest must flow directly from the disclosure itself, and not from speculative secondary effects based on plaintiff's proposed use of the information, this again is not the law in this circuit. Indeed, in Ditlow v. Shultz, 517 F.2d at 171-72 n.21, the Court of Appeals stated that the "interest in disclosure to the public may be characterized by showing the uses contemplated by some members of the public specifically, but not exclusively, the plaintiffs."
Plaintiff proposes to use the information to inform annuitants of the association's goals and services, and to solicit new members. As an organization, plaintiff lobbies on behalf of its members before the legislative and executive branches, informs members of their rights and entitlements, and keeps them abreast of changes in the law. The situation here, then, is directly analogous to that presented in Disabled Officer's Ass'n. There too, the plaintiff intended to use the information "to inform [retired disabled military officers] of its existence and purpose and to solicit their membership." 428 F. Supp. at 458. The plaintiff served the interests of the members by lobbying on their behalf, apprising them of government activities affecting them, and assisting members in pursuing benefits to which they might be entitled. Id. The Court found that these services, in and of themselves, along with the fact that many of the addressees might be desirous of joining the association, created a public interest in disclosure sufficient to overcome the relatively slight privacy interests involved.
Defendant attempts to distinguish Disabled Officer's Ass'n on the grounds that there the plaintiff's membership had declined substantially and the organization was in danger of dying by attrition, while NARFE currently numbers nearly half a million members and is still growing, albeit at a drastically reduced rate. The Court, however, does not view such a distinction as controlling. The public interest identified in Disabled Officer's Ass'n derived from the organization's services, not from its mere existence. It is unlikely that, had the organization's membership been stable rather than declining, the court would have refused disclosure on the grounds that the association was reaching enough people, or was already performing its services well enough. So too here, the public interest in disclosure flows from NARFE's services and the fact that many annuitants might be pleased to learn of them. If plaintiff's continued existence were in danger, that might strengthen its claim of a public interest in release of the addresses; the fact that its membership is relatively large, however, does not undermine its claim.
Finally, defendant argues that plaintiff could contact recent annuitants through less intrusive means, such as advertising. It is true that the availability of alternative sources of the information sought is a factor to be weighed in the balancing process. Ditlow v. Shultz, 517 F.2d at 172-73. Since plaintiff lost access to defendant's mailing lists, its membership has increased by only 4,000 at a time when some 535,000 new names were placed on the annuity rolls. While the record does not indicate precisely what alternative solicitation methods plaintiff has employed during this period, it is clear they have been largely unsuccessful. Defendant suggests advertising as an appropriate alternative, but as plaintiff's potential members are to be found in all 50 states, such a recruitment strategy is certain to be expensive. Moreover, the claim that an organization can advertise through the media could be made in every "names and addresses" case, and could have been raised in the Disabled Officer's Ass'n or National Ass'n of Atomic Veterans cases. Such a blanket claim does little to assist the Court in determining whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the privacy interests at stake.
In light of the general philosophy of disclosure that animates FOIA, and the high standard set out in Exemption 6 tilting the balance in favor of disclosure, this Court concludes that defendant improperly withheld the information sought by plaintiff in this case. Given the relatively minor invasion of privacy that will be occasioned by release of the names and addresses, and the public interest in disclosure, this Court finds that the information must be released. It is therefore, this 28th day of April, 1986
ORDERED that summary judgment be and it hereby is granted in favor of plaintiff and against defendant and that defendant be and it hereby is ordered to promptly release to plaintiff the names and addresses of all persons added to the federal annuity rolls between April 1, 1981 and December 31, 1984.
Pursuant to the Opinion and Order entered in this action this same day, judgment be and it hereby is entered in favor of plaintiff National Association of Retired Federal Employees and against Constance Horner, Director of Office of Personnel Management.
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