get subsidies because they live on a farm but because they work on one. The nature of the list reflects the professional relationship of the recipients to the government as cotton farmers and, as such, its release must be measured in light of the effect on the recipients as businesspeople. In sum, the Court concludes that the release of this list of relatively generic facts -- names, business addresses and amounts of subsidy -- that reveal no damaging or sensitive information and that pertain to tens of thousands of otherwise indistinguishable businesspeople would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy.
Finally, with respect to possible unwanted media attention, the privacy test turns on the nature of the information sought and not on the identity of the seeker. It therefore is the release of the information itself -- the fact that a particular farmer received a cotton subsidy -- that must create the unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and not the fact that it is The Washington Post that happens to be asking for it. Moreover, as Judge Joyce Hens Green has noted, "inquiry by news media or other interested parties about any particular [individual] is not the sort of invasion of privacy envisioned by Exemption 6." National Association of Atomic Veterans v. Director, Defense Nuclear Agency, 583 F. Supp. 1483, 1487 (D.D.C. 1984). Accordingly, the mere threat of media attention does not suffice to draw the protective cloak of Exemption 6 over information that happens to be newsworthy.
B. The Public Interest in Disclosure
As the Supreme Court has established, "unless the invasion of privacy is 'clearly unwarranted,' the public interest in disclosure must prevail. . . . FOIA's basic policy . . . focuses on the citizens' right to be informed about what their government is up to. Official information that sheds light on an agency's performance of its statutory duties falls squarely within that statutory purpose." Department of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. at 177-78 (citations and quotations omitted). The government argues nevertheless that the release of data pertaining to the cotton program recipients would not shed any light on the workings of the agency and that there therefore is no public interest in disclosure. See United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. at 773 ("Disclosure of information about private citizens that . . . reveals little or nothing about an agency's own conduct" does not further the public interest). The Court disagrees.
There is far more at stake in this action than a requester's private interest in obtaining the records. Cf. NARFE v. Horner, 879 F.2d at 879. A significant public interest lies in shedding light on the workings of the Department of Agriculture and the administration of this massive subsidy program, and plaintiff has persuasively demonstrated how the release of the recipients' names, addresses and subsidy amounts could illuminate the USDA's actions. The Post has identified allegations of fraud and conflict of interest, supported by government reports and investigations, as well newspaper articles and other information in the public domain, sufficient to raise nonspeculative questions about the workings of the USDA.
Under the FOIA's presumption in favor of disclosure and its core purpose of informing the public about the workings of government, no more is required. See The Nation Magazine, Washington Bureau v. United States Customs Service, 315 U.S. App. D.C. 177, 71 F.3d 885, 894-95 (D.C. Cir. 1995) ("The mere fact that records pertain to an individual's activities does not necessarily qualify them for exemption. Such records may still be cloaked with the public interest if the information would shed light on agency action.").
Having found that the privacy interest at stake in the release of the requested information is minimal while the public interest in its release is substantial, the Court concludes that The Post is entitled to release of the list. A Order consistent with this Opinion will be entered this same day.
PAUL L. FRIEDMAN
United States District Judge
This case is before the Court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated in the accompanying Opinion issued this same day, it is hereby
ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED; it is
FURTHER ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that judgment is entered for plaintiff.
PAUL L. FRIEDMAN
United States District Judge