JOHN H. PRATT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff, an Albuquerque, New Mexico, newspaper, brings this action under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (1988) ("FOIA"), to compel the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") to release certain documents that are responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The issues have been extensively briefed and the government has submitted two detailed affidavits and Vaughn indices describing all of the documents at issue.
On September 25, 1985, plaintiff submitted a written request
to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"), a component of DOJ, seeking all photographs, videotapes, and tape recordings made as part of the surveillance of Ken Gattas' residence, as well as all reports and documents relating to the contents of those materials. The surveillance of Gattas' residence came about after a mysterious 1983 fire at a well-known Albuquerque nightclub of which Gattas was part owner. Eventually, Gattas was prosecuted for arson and drug trafficking, but pled guilty during the trial to the drug charge and was sentenced to ten years in prison. As a result, not all of the evidence against him was presented at the trial. Plaintiff filed its FOIA request in the hopes of learning "the complete truth about the fire . . . and the extent of drug trafficking" at the nightclub. See Brief of Plaintiff at 2-3.
On March 23, 1987, after an administrative appeal and remand, DEA released six redacted pages to plaintiff, but withheld the remaining ninety pages it had located in reliance on one or more FOIA exemptions. After plaintiff commenced this action, the government voluntarily filed a Vaughn index and accompanying affidavit. Subsequently, it was found that additional documents might be responsive to plaintiff's request. Upon further investigation in response to plaintiff's inquiries, DOJ discovered that DEA routinely destroys documents relating to past criminal investigations and that some of the information sought by plaintiff had been destroyed according to this procedure. In addition, DEA located photographs and two tape recordings responsive to plaintiff's request. Accordingly, in the spring of 1988, the government filed a supplemental Vaughn index and affidavit. At the same time, it released an additional nine redacted pages originally withheld in their entirety.
DEA has withheld information covered by plaintiff's request on the basis of FOIA exemptions 2, 7(C), 7(D), 7(E), and 7(F).
Plaintiff challenges the sufficiency of the agency's affidavits and indices
and the adequacy of its search for items responsive to plaintiff's request. For the reasons explained below, the Court will defer ruling on the agency's exemption 7(E) claim until after we have conducted an in camera inspection of the relevant materials. In all other respects, we find plaintiff's challenges without merit and conclude that the agency is entitled to summary judgment.
II. The Sufficiency of the Vaughn Indices
The burden of establishing that this information falls within one of these exemptions lies with the agency. Yeager v. DEA, 220 App. D.C. 1, 678 F.2d 315, 320 (D.C. Cir. 1982) (citing 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)). To meet this burden, the agency "must provide a relatively detailed justification, specifically identifying the reasons why a particular exemption is relevant and correlating those claims with the particular part of a withheld document to which they apply." Mead Data Central, Inc. v. United States Department of the Air Force, 184 U.S. App. D.C. 350, 566 F.2d 242, 251 (D.C.Cir. 1977) (citations omitted); see also Yeager, 678 F.2d at 320 (citation omitted). The government's affidavits and indices must be sufficient "to allow us to make a reasoned determination that" DEA correctly invoked the exemptions. Coastal States Gas Corporation v. Department of Energy, 199 U.S. App. D.C. 272, 617 F.2d 854, 861 (D.C.Cir. 1980).
Plaintiff asserts that DEA has failed to justify nondisclosure of the information plaintiff seeks. Specifically, plaintiff claims that the agency's Vaughn indices "do not describe the materials with reasonable specificity and therefore do not provide the Court or plaintiff a context in which to evaluate or challenge the claimed exemption." Brief of Plaintiff at 12. In addition, plaintiff contends, these filings fail to provide a sufficiently detailed analysis of the claimed exemptions and their relevance to particular documents. Id. at 13.
Except with respect to exemption 7(E), we disagree. Below, we first consider these challenges in the context of each claimed exemption. Next we address plaintiff's general assertion that the format of the agency's indices and affidavits is unacceptable.
A. Exemption 2
Exemption 2 authorizes an agency to withhold from disclosure information "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2). The government has claimed this exemption with respect to internal DEA markings and phrases regarding the treatment and distribution of DEA documents requested by plaintiff. As is customary practice at DEA, most of the pages involved bear "informant identifier codes" and many bear "violator identifiers." First Bordley Aff. at 4. The informant identifier codes "provide sensitive information about individuals who cooperate with DEA in carrying out its law enforcement functions." Id. at 5. The violator identifiers refer to the priority of DEA investigations, types of criminal activities, geographical areas, types of controlled substances involved, and violator ratings. Id. at 4. According to DEA, if disclosed, these codes could be deciphered and used to thwart DEA's investigative and enforcement efforts. Id.
The informant codes plainly fall within the ambit of exemption 2. Lesar v. United States Department of Justice, 204 U.S. App. D.C. 200, 636 F.2d 472, 485-86 (D.C.Cir. 1980). In Lesar, the Court of Appeals held that "the means by which the FBI refers to informants in its investigative files is a matter of internal significance in which the public has no substantial interest." Id. at 485-86. We believe that this reasoning applies to the violator codes as well. The public has no legitimate interest in gaining information that could lead to the impairment of DEA investigations.
B. The "Law Enforcement" Exemptions
The government has also invoked four of the seven "law enforcement" exemptions described in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). That subsection authorizes an agency to withhold, inter alia :
records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information . . . (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a State [or] local . . . agency or authority . . . which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation . . ., information furnished by a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations . . ., or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual . . . .
5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). It is undisputed that the documents responsive to plaintiff's request are law enforcement records compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation. The question before this Court, therefore, is whether the other statutory requirements are met.
1. Exemption 7(C)
DEA claims that portions of the documents contain third party information -- "names, addresses and phone numbers which would reveal the identity and disclose information about persons who were implicated, involved or associated with" the surveillance of Gattas' residence. First Bordley Aff. at 6. DEA asserts that disclosure of the identity of these individuals, "whether they were accomplices, other defendants, informants, [or] innocent third parties," would be an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy. Id. The information could be construed, DEA claims, to mean "that otherwise innocent persons are involved in illicit activities," and such persons might "suffer undue harassment and humiliation" as a result. Id.
In evaluating the agency's claim, we must balance the privacy interest in nondisclosure of the material against the public interest in its release. United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749, 109 S. Ct. 1468, 1476, 103 L. Ed. 2d 774 (1989). Our preliminary inquiry is whether a personal privacy interest is involved. Reporters Committee, 109 S. Ct. at 1476. We conclude that there is. Reporters Committee and decisions in this Circuit indicate that individuals have a substantial privacy interest in information that either confirms or suggests that they may have been subject to a criminal investigation. See id. at 1476-80; Fund for Constitutional Government v. National Archives and Records Service, 211 U.S. App. D.C. 267, 656 F.2d 856, 863-65 (D.C.Cir. 1981); Baez v. United States Department of Justice, 208 U.S. App. D.C. 199, 647 F.2d 1328, 1338-39 (D.C.Cir. 1980).
Once it is established that a personal privacy interest is implicated, the next inquiry is whether there are any countervailing factors that warrant an invasion of that interest. See Reporters Committee, 109 S. Ct. at 1480. In this regard, our fundamental focus must be on the relationship of the requested material to the basic purpose of FOIA to expose agency action to public scrutiny. See id. at 1481 (quoting Department of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 372, 96 S. Ct. 1592, 1604, 48 L. Ed. 2d 11 (1976)). Clearly, "official information that sheds light on an agency's performance of its statutory duties falls squarely within that . . . purpose." Id. The purpose is not furthered, however, by disclosure of information about individuals "that is accumulated in . . . governmental files but that reveals little or nothing about an agency's own conduct." Id.
The Supreme Court has suggested that in the typical FOIA case in which one citizen seeks information about another, "the requester does not intend to discover anything about the conduct of the agency that has possession of the requested records." Id. This is certainly true in the present case. Plaintiff sought DEA's records of the surveillance of Gattas' residence in order to learn "the complete truth about the fire . . . and the extent of drug trafficking at the night club." See Brief of Plaintiff at 2-3. Thus, by its own admission, plaintiff is not primarily interested in DEA's conduct with respect to its investigation of Gattas and others, but rather in the information DEA obtained about these individuals and their activities as a result. This information does not relate to the basic purpose of FOIA "'to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.'"
Rose, 425 U.S. at 372.
Our conclusion is supported by the Supreme Court's discussion of its Rose decision in Reporters Committee. Rose involved a request by New York University law students for Air Force Honor and Ethics Code case summaries for a Law Review project on military discipline. Because the summaries contained information about how the Air Force Academy's disciplinary procedures "actually functioned," they were an appropriate subject of a FOIA request. Reporters Committee, 109 S. Ct. at 1482. However, all parties agreed that it was proper to delete identifying information about the particular cadets to whom the summaries related. Id. In Reporters Committee, the Supreme Court further explained:
The deletions were unquestionably appropriate because the names of the particular cadets were irrelevant to the inquiry into the way the Air Force Academy administered its Honor Code . . . . If, instead of seeking information about the Academy's own conduct, the requests had asked for specific files to obtain information about the persons to whom those files related, the public interest that supported the decision [to release information] in Rose would have been inapplicable.