(D.D.C. 1984), that is not the case here. By the time Schwaner's hypothetical researcher or watchdog sought the list prepared at his behest, it would undoubtedly be outdated. And while the overall deployment of military personnel is perhaps a public matter, subject to some security restrictions, release of the names and locations of lower-level military personnel is not germane to this interest.
The list, and plaintiff's vague assertions of a theoretical public interest, simply do not meet the "low threshold" test of being "relate[d] to significant public interests" in this routine commercial context. Founding Church of Scientology, supra, at 830, n. 4, citing Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 360-62, 48 L. Ed. 2d 11, 96 S. Ct. 1592 (1976). If the contrary is accepted, then as electronic filing expands to create ever larger reservoirs of miscellaneous personal data, a wealth of personal information will be placed at hazard and normal considerations of individual privacy will be jeopardized. In order to target its mailings and phone calls in ever more precise and intrusive ways using the highly sophisticated tactics of modern marketing, the creative FOIA requester will tap into the vast databanks of government computers. Perhaps, after obtaining data from FOIA requests, they will sell their lists to other merchants interested in the military or civil service markets. While this threat to personal liberties is far from fatal, the government should not be put to the cumulating expense of processing the requests of merchants, nor should FOIA be interpreted as requiring this intrusion of the privacy of government employees.
In related FOIA issues, this Circuit has not equated commercial interests with the public interest. See, e.g., National Treasury Employees Union v. Griffin, 258 U.S. App. D.C. 302, 811 F.2d 644, 649 (1987); LaSalle Extension Univ. v. Federal Trade Commission, 201 U.S. App. D.C. 22, 627 F.2d 481, 483-84 (D.C.Cir. 1980); Fenster v. Brown, 199 U.S. App. D.C. 158, 617 F.2d 740, 744-45 (1979). With regard to exemptions from disclosure, Courts rightly distinguish between non-profit institutions which seek to serve the addressees and commercial enterprises whose requests are for their own profit. Compare, Disabled Officer's Ass'n v. Rumsfeld, 428 F. Supp. 454 (D.D.C. 1977), aff'd. mem. sub. nom., Disabled Officer's Ass'n v. Brown, 574 F.2d 636 (D.C.Cir. 1978) (permitting disclosure to a nonprofit organization designed to serve the interests of retired disabled officers of the Armed Forces) with Wine Hobby USA v. IRS, 502 F.2d 133 (3d Cir. 1974) (names and addresses of amateur wine makers exempt from disclosure "for private commercial exploitation."). Id., at 137. Schwaner's reliance on Army Times Publishing Company v. Department of the Army, 684 F. Supp. 720 (D.D.C. 1988), is misplaced. In upholding a newspaper's request for lists of names and addresses of Army personnel, the Court described the Army Times ' integral relationship to the Army and to Army personnel. Id., slip op. at 2-3. The requests of insurance companies bear no such relationship to the public servants whose names and addresses Schwaner seeks. The Court in Army Times specifically did not hold that release of names and addresses will always be in the public interest, and in fact said that "there are certainly circumstances where the contrary would be true." Id., at 724, n.12. Plaintiff Schwaner's interest in selling insurance does not rise to the level of public interest, and does not justify an invasion of the privacy of government employees. Release of personal information to commercial solicitors is unwarranted in the absence of specific permission to do so from the government employee, or in the absence of a clear, unique connection between the purpose of the requestor and the interests of the persons whose names and addresses are being sought.
While Courts cannot make decisions based on the quality of publication or political orientation of a FOIA requester, distinctions can be made between the requests of those seeking knowledge as to the workings of their government and requesters who merely seek to gain a toehold in a new market -- government personnel.
Moreover, when considering an Exemption (b)(2) request, the Court is permitted to consider the administrative burden imposed on agencies in processing FOIA requests when internal matters are not likely to be the subject of public interest. "The general thrust of the exemption is simply to relieve agencies of the burden of assembling and maintaining for public inspection matter in which the public could not reasonably be expected to have an interest." Rose, supra, 425 U.S. at 369-370; See also, Martin v. Lauer, 222 U.S. App. D.C. 302, 686 F.2d 24, 34 (1982); Falzone v. Department of the Navy, Civil No. 85-3862, slip op. at 11 (D.D.C. Nov. 21, 1986). Here, the administrative burden is heavy: a new computer program had to be created, FOIA processing itself takes over ten hours, and computer time had to be obtained from a central computer serving ten personnel offices. Because of the overall shortage of computer availability, the expedition of FOIA requests delays the execution of other tasks related to the primary purpose of the Air Force. Much of the expense of processing such requests cannot even be charged to the requester, although the FOIA legislation provides for some "user fees." 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(4)(A). This is as it should be: were government agencies to charge, by the hour, for the full costs of processing FOIA requests, the legitimate requests of those seeking information related to matters of genuine public interest could well be impeded.
To require the compilation of personal records of government personnel at the behest of any entrepreneur who files a FOIA request is to contort the purpose of FOIA. Its purpose is a laudable and lofty one: "to pierce the veil of agency administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny." Rose, supra, 425 U.S. at 361. This goal does not encompass subjecting the personnel of the government to unsolicited intrusions on their privacy with no public justification. Here, the request for the seventy-page computer printout does not seek to shed light on agency action or government secrecy. Fulfilling the request will not help to inform the citizenry of the workings of its government, or foster public accountability by monitoring governmental action. A few servicemembers might buy insurance from Schwaner as a result of the release, but giving a competitive advantage to salespersons who avail themselves of FOIA was hardly the driving idea behind FOIA. Given the administrative burden, the flood of requests from commercial enterprises will lead to such frustration among agency personnel, judges, and perhaps ultimately, Congress, that the truly meritorious claims for public information will be delayed, if not frustrated entirely.
Schwaner's request points to the structural problem of burdening public employees to a greater extent than private employees. Public servants have given up some privacy already; but to compel the government to expose its workers to any solicitor who asks for names, addresses, and, implicitly, rates of pay, is to make public service ever less attractive. Why should someone working in the military have less privacy than someone working, say, for IBM or Boeing or General Electric, corporations which manufacture goods for the military? Did Congress really intend to open all government workers to exposure from creative solicitors, while their counterparts in the private sector remained shielded by their employers? Did Congress intend to publicize the names, addresses and rates of pay of all government workers? To grant this request would open personnel records to the pruriently curious and the doggedly entrepreneurial. See, Lesar, supra, at 487-88. Federal buildings may be closed to solicitors, to enable federal workers to go about their work in peace. But equally distracting could be the phone calls and pamphlets of commercial FOIA requesters, and agencies should be able to screen workers from these distractions.
Through its regulations, and its opposition to FOIA requests such as Schwaner's, the military is attempting to strike a responsible balance between disclosure under FOIA and protecting privacy. This balance should not be undone by providing for full disclosure, without regard for personal privacy and administrative burdens, when no public interest justifies disclosure. Summary judgment is granted in favor of the Department of the Air Force and denied Plaintiff, and an appropriate order is filed herewith.
For the reasons set forth in the Court's Memorandum filed this day it is hereby
ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the complaint is dismissed; and it is further
ORDERED that plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.
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