[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that the US Navy did not have to disclose the locations and potential blast ranges of explosive artillery stored at a Puget Sound military base. On appeal from a district court's denial of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] request, the court reasoned that the government's need to preserve sensitive information prevailed over the public's right to access government files. The Naval Magazine Indian Island base is used to store various munitions, weapons and explosives for the Navy, the Department of Homeland Security [official websites] and other federal agencies. Among other documents, the FOIA request sought files regarding Explosive Safety Quantity Distance [backgrounder] information, referred to as "arc maps," which display the maximum area at risk from a potential explosion. The majority found the request to fall under Exemption 2 of the FOIA which covers information "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." One dissenting member of the three-judge panel argued that the majority's interpretation of Exemption 2 was inconsistent with the statute and existing case law, and found that the request did not fall within any of the other claimed exemptions.
Earlier this year, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] announced new FOIA guidelines [JURIST report] designed to increase transparency. The new guidelines rescinded a 2001 FOIA memorandum which stated that the Department of Justice would defend decisions to withhold information "unless they lack a sound legal basis or present an unwarranted risk" in the ability to protect other important records. Holder's directive addressed a memorandum [text; JURIST report] issued by President Barack Obama in January which called for all agencies to "adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure" in regard to FOIA requests.