MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Respondents, student editors or former student editors of the New York University Law Review researching
We granted certiorari, 420 U.S. 923 (1975). We affirm.
The District Court made factual findings respecting the administration of the Honor and Ethics Codes at the Academy. See Pet. for Cert. 28A-29A, nn. 5, 6. Under the Honor Code enrolled cadets pledge: "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone
The Board may return a guilty finding only upon unanimous vote. If the verdict is guilty, under certain circumstances the Board may grant the guilty cadet "discretion," for which a vote of six of the eight members is required. A verdict of guilty with discretion is equivalent to a not-guilty finding in that the cadet is returned to his cadet squadron in good standing. A verdict of guilty without discretion results in one of three alternative dispositions: the cadet may resign from the Academy, request a hearing before a Board of Officers, or request a trial by court-martial.
At the announcement of the verdict, the Honor Committee Chairman reminds all cadets present at the hearing that all matters discussed at the hearing are confidential and should not be discussed outside the room with anyone other than an honor representative. A case summary consisting of a brief statement, usually only one page, of the significant facts is prepared by the Committee. As we have said, copies of the summaries are posted on 40 squadron bulletin boards throughout the Academy, and distributed among Academy faculty and administration officials. Cadets are instructed not to read the summaries, unless they have a need, beyond mere curiosity, to know their contents, and the reading
Ethics Code violations are breaches of conduct less serious than Honor Code violations, and administration of Ethics Code cases is generally less structured, though similar. In many instances, ethics cases are handled informally by the cadet squadron commander, the squadron ethics representative, and the individual concerned. These cases are not necessarily written up and no complete file is maintained; a case is written up and the summary placed in back of the Honor Code reading files only if it is determined to be of value for the cadet population. Distribution of Ethics Code summaries is substantially the same as that of Honor Code summaries, and their confidentiality, too, is maintained by Academy custom and practice.
Our discussion may conveniently begin by again emphasizing the basic thrust of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U. S. C. § 552 (1970 ed. and Supp. V). We canvassed the subject at some length three years ago in EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 79-80 (1973), and need only briefly review that history here. The Act revises § 3, the public disclosure section, of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U. S. C. § 1002 (1964 ed.). The revision was deemed necessary because "Section 3 was generally recognized as falling far short of its disclosure goals and came to be looked upon more as a withholding statute than a disclosure statute." Mink, supra, at 79. Congress therefore structured a revision whose basic purpose reflected "a general philosophy of full agency disclosure unless information
Mindful of the congressional purpose, we then turn to consider whether mandatory disclosure of the case summaries is exempted by either of the exemptions involved here, discussing, first, Exemption 2, and, second, Exemption 6.
The phrasing of Exemption 2 is traceable to congressional dissatisfaction with the exemption from disclosure under former § 3 of the Administrative Procedure Act of "any matter relating solely to the internal management of an agency." 5 U. S. C. § 1002 (1964 ed.). The sweep of that wording led to withholding by agencies from disclosure of matter "rang[ing] from the important to the insignificant." H. R. Rep. No. 1497, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 5 (1966) (hereinafter H. R. Rep. No. 1497). An earlier effort at minimizing this sweep, S. 1666 introduced in the 88th Congress in 1963, applied the "internal management" exemption only to matters required to be published in the Federal Register; agency orders and records were exempted from other public disclosure only when the information related "solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of any agency." The distinction was highlighted in the Senate Report on S. 1666 by reference to the latter as the "more tightly drawn" exempting language. S. Rep. No. 1219, 88th Cong., 2d Sess., 12 (1964).
No final action was taken on S. 1666 in the 88th Congress; the Senate passed the bill, but it reached the
But that is not the end of the inquiry. The House and Senate Reports on the bill finally enacted differ upon the scope of the narrowed exemption. The Senate Report stated:
The House Report, on the other hand, declared:
Almost all courts that have considered the difference between the Reports have concluded that the Senate Report more accurately reflects the congressional purpose.
It might appear, nonetheless, that the House Report's reference to "[o]perating rules, guidelines, and manuals of procedure" supports a much broader interpretation of the exemption than the Senate Report's circumscribed examples. This argument was recently considered and rejected by Judge Wilkey speaking for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Vaughn v. Rosen, 173 U. S. App. D. C., at 193-194, 523 F. 2d, at 1142:
For the reasons stated by Judge Wilkey, and because we think the primary focus of the House Report was on exemption of disclosures that might enable the regulated
The District Court had also concluded in this case that the Senate Report was "the surer indication of congressional intent." Pet. for Cert. 34A n. 21. The Court of Appeals found it unnecessary to take "a firm stand on the issue," concluding that "the difference of approach between the House and Senate Reports would not affect the result here." 495 F. 2d, at 265. The different conclusions of the two courts in applying the Senate Report's interpretation centered upon a disagreement as to the materiality of the public significance of the operation of the Honor and Ethics Codes. The District Court based its conclusion on a determination that the Honor and Ethics Codes "[b]y definition . . . are meant to control only those people in the agency. . . . The operation of the Honor Code cannot possibly affect anyone outside its sphere of voluntary participation which is limited by its function and its publication to the Academy." Pet. for Cert. 34A. The Court of Appeals on the other hand concluded that under "the Senate construction of Exemption Two, [the] case summaries. . . clearly fall outside its ambit" because "[s]uch summaries have a substantial potential for public interest outside the Government." 495 F. 2d, at 265.
We agree with the approach and conclusion of the Court of Appeals. The implication for the general public of the Academy's administration of discipline is obvious, particularly so in light of the unique role of the military. What we have said of the military in other contexts has equal application here: it "constitutes a specialized community governed by a separate discipline from that of the civilian," Orloff v. Willoughby, 345 U.S. 83, 94 (1953), in which the internal law of command and obedience invests the military officer with "a particular position of responsibility." Parker v. Levy,
In sum, we think that, at least where the situation is not one where disclosure may risk circumvention of agency regulation, Exemption 2 is not applicable to matters subject to such a genuine and significant public interest. The exemption was not designed to authorize withholding of all matters except otherwise secret law bearing directly on the propriety of actions of members of the public. Rather, the general thrust of the exemption is simply to relieve agencies of the burden of assembling and maintaining for public inspection matter in which the public could not reasonably be expected to
Additional questions are involved in the determination whether Exemption 6 exempts the case summaries from mandatory disclosure as "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The first question is whether the clause "the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" modifies "personnel and medical files" or only "similar files." The Agency argues that Exemption 6 distinguishes "personnel" from "similar" files, exempting all "personnel files" but only those "similar files" whose disclosure constitutes "a
The Agency did not argue its suggested distinction between "personnel" and "similar" files to either the District Court or the Court of Appeals, and the opinions of both courts treat Exemption 6 as making no distinction between "personnel" and "similar" files in the application of the "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" requirement. The District Court held that "[i]t is only the identifying connection to the individual that casts the personnel, medical, and similar files within the protection of [the] sixth exemption." Pet. for Cert. 30A-31A. The Court of Appeals stated: "[W]e are dealing here with `personnel' or `similar files.' But the key words, of course, are `a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy' . . . ." 495 F. 2d, at 266.
We agree with these views, for we find nothing in the wording of Exemption 6 or its legislative history to support the Agency's claim that Congress created a blanket exemption for personnel files. Judicial interpretation has uniformly reflected the view that no reason would exist for nondisclosure in the absence of a showing of a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy, whether the documents are filed in "personnel" or "similar" files. See, e. g., Wine Hobby USA, Inc. v. IRS, 502 F.2d 133, 135 (CA3 1974); Rural Housing Alliance v. United States Dept. of Agriculture, 162 U. S. App. D. C. 122, 126, 498 F.2d 73, 77 (1974); Vaughn v. Rosen, 157 U. S. App. D. C. 340, 484 F.2d 820 (1973); Getman v. NLRB, 146 U. S.
Both House and Senate Reports can only be read as disclosing a congressional purpose to eschew a blanket exemption for "personnel . . . and similar files" and to require a balancing of interests in either case. Thus the House Report states, H. R. Rep. No. 1497, p. 11: "The limitation of a `clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy' provides a proper balance between the protection of an individual's right of privacy and the preservation of the public's right to Government information by excluding those kinds of files the disclosure of which might harm the individual." Similarly, the Senate Report, S. Rep. No. 813, p. 9, states: "The phrase `clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy' enunciates a policy that will involve a balancing of interests between the protection of an individual's private affairs from unnecessary public scrutiny, and the preservation of the public's right to governmental information."
See also Wine Hobby USA, Inc. v. IRS, supra, at 135.
Congress' recent action in amending the Freedom of Information Act to make explicit its agreement with
In so specifying, Congress confirmed what had perhaps been only less clear earlier. For the Senate and House Reports on the bill enacted in 1966 noted specifically that Health, Education, and Welfare files, Selective Service files, or Veterans' Administration files, which as the Agency here recognizes
Moreover, even if we were to agree that "personnel files" are wholly exempt from any disclosure under Exemption 6, it is clear that the case summaries sought here lack the attributes of "personnel files" as commonly understood. Two attributes of the case summaries require that they be characterized as "similar files." First, they relate to the discipline of cadet personnel, and while even Air Force Regulations themselves show that this single factor is insufficient to characterize the summaries as "personnel files,"
This contention has no merit. First, the argument implies that Congress barred disclosure in any case in which the conclusion could not be guaranteed that disclosure would not trigger recollection of identity in any person whatever. But this ignores Congress' limitation of the exemption to cases of "clearly unwarranted"
In striking the balance whether to order disclosure of all or part of the case summaries, the District Court, in determining whether disclosure will entail a "clearly unwarranted" invasion of personal privacy, may properly discount its probability in light of Academy tradition to keep identities confidential within the Academy.
To be sure, redaction cannot eliminate all risks of identifiability, as any human approximation risks some degree of imperfection, and the consequences of exposure of identity can admittedly be severe. But redaction is a familiar technique in other contexts
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, dissenting.
If "hard cases make bad law," unusual cases surely have the potential to make even worse law. Today, on the basis of a highly unusual request for information about a unique governmental process, a military academy honor system, the Court interprets definitively a substantial and very significant part of a major federal statute governing the balance between the public's "right to know" and the privacy of the individual citizen.
In my view, the Court makes this case carry too much jurisprudential baggage. Consequently, the basic congressional intent to protect a reasonable balance between the availability of information in the custody of the Government and the particular individual's right of privacy is undermined. In addition, district courts are burdened with a task Congress could not have intended for them.
(1) This case does not compel us to decide whether the summaries at issue here are "personnel files" or whether files so categorized are beyond the proviso of Exemption 6 that disclosure constitute "a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Even assuming, arguendo, that the Government must show that the summaries are subject to the foregoing standard, it is quite
The Court correctly notes that Congress, in enacting Exemption 6, intended to strike "a proper balance between the protection of the individual's right of privacy and the preservation of the public's right to Government information by excluding those kinds of files the disclosure of which might harm the individual." H. R. Rep. No. 1497, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 11 (1966). Having acknowledged the necessity of such a balance, however, the Court, in my view, blandly ignores and thereby frustrates the congressional intent by refusing to weigh, realistically, the grave consequences implicit in release of this particular information, in any form, against the relatively inconsequential claim of "need" for the material alleged in the complaint.
The opinions of this Court have long recognized the opprobrium which both the civilian and the military segments of our society attribute to allegations of dishonor among commissioned officers of our Armed Forces. See, e. g., Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 744 (1974), quoting Orloff v. Willoughby, 345 U.S. 83, 91 (1953). The stigma which our society imposes on the individual who has accepted such a position of trust
Admittedly, the Court requires that, before release, these documents be subject to in camera inspection with power of excising parts. But, as the Court admits, any such attempt to "sanitize" these summaries would still leave the very distinct possibility that the individual would still be identifiable and thereby injured. In light of Congress' recent manifest concern in the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U. S. C. § 552a (1970 ed., Supp. V), for "governmental respect for the privacy of citizens . . . ," S. Rep. No. 93-1183, p. 1 (1974), it is indeed difficult to attribute to Congress a willingness to subject an individual citizen to the risk of possible severe damage to his reputation simply to permit law students to invade individual privacy to prepare a law journal article. Its definition of a "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal
(2) Moreover, excision would not only be ineffectual in accomplishing the legislative intent of protecting an individual's affairs from unnecessary public scrutiny, but it would place an intolerable burden upon a district court which, in my view, Congress never intended to inflict. Although the 1974 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act require that "[a]ny reasonably segregable portion of a record . . . ," 5 U. S. C. § 552 (b) (1970 ed., Supp. V), otherwise exempt, be provided, there is nothing in the legislative history of the original Act or its amendments which would require a district court to construct, in effect, a new document. Yet, the excision process mandated here could only require such a sweeping reconstruction of the material that the end product would constitute an entirely new document. No provision of the Freedom of Information Act contemplates a federal district judge acting as a "rewrite editor" of the original material.
If the Court's holding is indeed a fair reflection of congressional intent, we are confronted with a "splitpersonality" legislative reaction, by the conflict between a seeming passion for privacy and a comparable passion for needless invasions of privacy.
Accordingly, I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, dissenting.
We are here concerned with the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U. S. C. § 552 (1970 ed. and Supp. V), and with two of the exemptions provided by § 552 (b). The Court in the very recent past has not hesitated consistently
A. The Act's second exemption, § 552 (b) (2), extends to matters that are "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." There can be no doubt that the Department of the Air Force, including the faculty and staff who supervise cadets at the Air Force Academy, qualifies as an "agency," within the meaning of § 522 (b) (2), and the Court so recognizes. Ante, at 355-356. I would have thought, however, that matters that concern the established Honor Codes of our military academies, codes long in existence and part of our military society and tradition, see Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 743-744 (1974), and the disciplining of cadets as they move along in their Government-supplied education, would clearly qualify as "internal personnel . . . practices" of that agency. By its very nature, this smacks of personnel and personnel problems and practices. It is the agency's internal business and not the public's, and, because it is, the exemption is, or should be, afforded. Thus, although the Court does not, I find great support in the language of the second exemption for the petitioners' position here. To me, it makes both obvious and common sense, and I would hold, as did the District Court, that the Act's second exemption applies to the case summaries respondent Rose so ardently desired, and removes them from his eager grasp.
I cannot accept the rationale of the Court of Appeals majority that the existence of a "substantial potential for
B. The Act's sixth exemption, § 522 (b) (6), is equally supportive for the petitioners here and for the result opposite to that which the Court reaches today. This exemption applies to matters that are "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Once again, we have a specific reference to "personnel . . . files," and what I have said above applies equally here. But, in addition, the sixth exemption covers "similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." The added restrictive phrase applies not to "personnel," and surely not to "medical files," but only to "similar files." See Robles v. EPA, 484 F.2d 843, 845-846 (CA4 1973). The emphasis is on personnel files and on medical files and on "similar" files to the extent that privacy invasion of the latter would be unwarranted. The exemption as to personnel files and as to medical files is clear and unembellished. It is almost inconceivable to me that the Court is willing today to attach the qualification phrase to medical files and thereby open to the public what has been recognized as almost the essence of ultimate privacy. The law's long established physician-patient privilege establishes this.
If, then, these case summaries are something less than "personnel files," a proposition I do not accept, they surely are "similar" to personnel files and, when invaded, afford an instance of a "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." It is hard to imagine something any more personal. It seems to me that the Court is blinding itself to realities when it concludes, as it does, that Rose's demands do not result in invasions of the personal privacy of the cadets concerned. And I do not regard it as any less unwarranted just because there are court-ordered redaction, a most impractical solution, and judicial rationalization that because the case summaries were posted "on 40 squadron bulletin boards throughout the Academy," ante, at 355, and copies distributed to faculty and administration officials, the invasion is not an invasion at all. The "publication" is restricted to the Academy grounds and to the private, not public, portions of those facilities. It is disseminated to the corps alone and to faculty and administration, and is a part of the Academy's general pedagogical and disciplinary purpose and program. To be sure, 40 may appear to some to be a large number, but the Academy's "family" and the area confinement are what are important. And the Court's reasoning must apply, awkwardly it seems to me, to 20 or 10 or five or two posting places, or, indeed, to only one.
I should add that I see little assistance for the Court in the legislative history. As is so often the case, that
Finally, I note the Court's candid recognition of the personal risks involved. Ante, at 380-381. Today's decision, of course, now makes those risks a reality for the cadet, "particularly one who has remained in the military," and the risks are imposed upon the individual in return for a most questionable benefit to the public and personal benefit to respondent Rose. So often the pendulum swings too far.
I fear that the Court today strikes a severe blow to the Honor Codes, to the system under which they operate, and to the former cadets concerned. It is sad to see these old institutions mortally wounded and passing away and individuals placed in jeopardy and embarrassment for lesser incidents long past.
I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
Although this case requires our consideration of a claim of a right to "privacy," it arises in quite a different context from some of our other recent decisions such as Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976). In that case custodians of public records chose to disseminate them, and one of the subjects of the record claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the custodian from doing so. Here the custodian of the records, petitioner Department of the Air Force, has chosen not to disseminate the records, and its decision to that effect is being challenged by a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act. That Act, as both the Court's opinion and the dissenting opinion of THE CHIEF JUSTICE point out, requires the federal courts to balance the claim of right of access to the information
"(a) Each agency shall make available to the public information as follows:
"(3) Except with respect to the records made available under paragraphs (1) and (2) of this subsection, each agency, upon any request for records which (A) reasonably describes such records and (B) is made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees (if any), and procedures to be followed, shall make the records promptly available to any person.
"(4) (A) . . . .
"(B) On complaint, the district court of the United States in the district in which the complainant resides, or has his principal place of business, or in which the agency records are situated, or in the District of Columbia, has jurisdiction to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant. In such a case the court shall determine the matter de novo, and may examine the contents of such agency records in camera to determine whether such records or any part thereof shall be withheld under any of the exemptions set forth in subsection (b) of this section, and the burden is on the agency to sustain its action.
"(b) This section does not apply to matters that are—
"(2) related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency;
"(6) personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
"Any reasonably segregable portion of a record shall be provided to any person requesting such record after deletion of the portions which are exempt under this subsection.
"(c) This section does not authorize withholding of information or limit the availability of records to the public, except as specifically stated in this section. . . ."
"Former Secretary of War, Newton Baker, said, `. . . the inexact or untruthful soldier trifles with the lives of his fellow men and with the honor of his government. . . .' The young officer needs to be able to trust his men as does any commander. In these times of expensive and increasingly complex weapons systems, the officer must rely on fellow officers and airmen for his own safety and the safety of his men." App. 47.
"At the same time that a broad philosophy of `freedom of information' is enacted into law, it is necessary to protect certain equally important rights of privacy with respect to certain information in Government files, such as medical and personnel records . . . .
"It is not an easy task to balance the opposing interests, but it is not an impossible one either. It is not necessary to conclude that to protect one of the interests, the other must, of necessity, either be abrogated or substantially subordinated. Success lies in providing a workable formula which encompasses, balances, and protects all interests, yet places emphasis on the fullest responsible disclosure."
"To the extent required to prevent a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, an agency may delete identifying details when it makes available or publishes an opinion, statement of policy, interpretation, or staff manual or instruction."
The legislative history of the 1974 amendment of Exemption 7, which applies to investigatory files compiled for law enforcement purposes, stands in marked contrast. Under H. R. 12471, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. (1974), as originally amended and passed by the Senate, 120 Cong. Rec. 17033, 17040, 17047 (1974), although not as originally passed by the House, 120 Cong. Rec. 6819-6820 (1974), Exemption 7 was amended to exempt investigatory files compiled for law enforcement purposes only to the extent that their production would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" or meet one of several other conditions. In response to a Presidential request to delete "clearly unwarranted" from the amendment in the interests of personal privacy, the Conference Committee dropped the "clearly," 120 Cong. Rec. 33158-33159 (letters between President Ford and Sen. Kennedy), 34162 (letters between President Ford and Cong. Moorhead) (1974), and the bill was enacted as reported by the conference committee, 88 Stat. 1563.
"Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." (Emphasis supplied.)