Department of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164 (1991)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 90-747. Argued October 9, 1991—Decided December 16, 1991

In 1981, the Secretary of State obtained an assurance from the Haitian Government that it would not subject to prosecution for illegal departure undocumented Haitians interdicted by the United States and returned to Haiti. Personnel of petitioner State Department monitored Haiti's compliance with the assurance by conducting interviews with a "representative sample" of unsuccessful emigrants, most of whom reported no harassment or prosecution after their return. During immigration proceedings, respondents, undocumented Haitian nationals and their attorney, sought to prove that the nationals were entitled to political asylum in the United States because Haitians who immigrate illegally face a well-founded fear of persecution upon returning home. To disprove the Government's assertion that returnees have not been persecuted, respondents made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for copies of petitioner's interview reports and received, inter alia, 17 documents from which the names and other identifying information had been redacted. The District Court ordered petitioner to produce the redacted material, finding that the deletions were not authorized by FOIA Exemption 6, which exempts from disclosure "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The Court of Appeals affirmed. It found that the returnees' significant privacy interests—stemming from respondents' intent to use the redacted information to contact and question the returnees and from the Federal Government's promise to maintain their confidentiality—were outweighed by the public interest in learning whether the Government is adequately monitoring Haiti's compliance with its obligation and is honest when its officials opine that Haiti is adhering to its assurance. The court also concluded that the indirect benefit of giving respondents the means to locate and question returnees provided a public value requiring disclosure.

Held: Disclosure of the unredacted interview reports would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the returnees' privacy. Pp. 171-182.

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