Friday, April 22, 2005

FBI protects Osama's right to privacy

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that fights government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) has invoked privacy right protections on behalf of al Qaeda terror leader Osama bin Laden. In a September 24, 2003 declassified “Secret” FBI report obtained by Judicial Watch, the FBI invoked Exemption 6 under FOIA law on behalf of bin Laden, which permits the government to withhold all information about U.S. persons in “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” (5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) (2000))

Before invoking privacy protections for Osama bin Laden under Exemption 6, the FBI should have conducted a balancing “test” of the public's right to disclosure against the individual's right to privacy. Many of the references in the redacted documents cite publicly available news articles from sources such as The Washington Post and Associated Press. Based on its analysis of the news stories cited in the FBI report, Judicial Watch was able to determine that bin Laden’s name was redacted from the document, including newspaper headlines in the footnoted citations.

“It is dumbfounding that the United States government has placed a higher priority on the supposed privacy rights of Osama bin Laden than the public’s right to know what happened in the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is difficult for me to imagine a greater insult to the American people, especially those whose loved ones were murdered by bin Laden on that day.”

As a civil libertarian, I am comforted by the fact that, although he is not a U.S. citizen, and we have no idea where the guy is, our government is intent on protecting the privacy (you know, that right Tom DeLay and Nino Scalia insist doesn't exist) of Osama bin Laden.


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