Privacy Issues and Freedom of Information
One can be sued for publishing private facts about another person, even if those facts are true. A private fact is someone's personal information that has not previously been revealed to the public, that is not of legitimate public concern.
Freedom of InformationAll 50 states have public records laws which allow members of the public (including non-residents) to obtain documents and other public records from state and local government bodies. The open records laws in most states guarantee that police records are open unless some specific exemption would allow officers to deny access to the information. Statutes and case law on media access to police records vary greatly from state to state. Most police agencies also have written policies concerning what information is public and who may release arrest and incident reports .
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. Not all records can be released under the FOIA. Congress established certain categories of information that are not required to be released in response to a FOIA request because release would be harmful to a government or private interest. These categories are called "exemptions" from disclosures. Still, even if an exemption applies, agencies may use their discretion to release information when there is no foreseeable harm in doing so and disclosure is not otherwise prohibited by law.
Exempt InformationThere are nine categories of exempt information:
1. Information that is classified to protect national security.
2. Information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
3. Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.
4. Trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is confidential or privileged.
5. Privileged communications within or between agencies, including: Deliberative Process Privilege, Attorney-Work Product Privilege, and Attorney-Client Privilege
6. Information that, if disclosed, would invade another individual's personal privacy.
7. Information compiled for law enforcement purposes that:
a. Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
b. Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication
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
e. Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions
8. Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual
9. Information that concerns the supervision of financial institutions
10. Geological information on wells
Publication of Private FactIn most states, one can be sued for publishing private facts about another person , even if those facts are true. The term "private facts" refers to information about someone's personal life that has not previously been revealed to the public, that is not of legitimate public concern, and the publication of which would be offensive to a reasonable person. A plaintiff bringing a publication of private facts claim must show that the defendant disclosed a private fact. Common examples of private facts include information about medical conditions, sexual orientation, and history, and financial status. It may also include things like someone's social security or phone number if that information is not ordinarily publicly available. A plaintiff has no privacy interest with respect to a matter that is already public.