JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
In September 1979, respondent Washington Post Co. filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U. S. C. § 552, requesting certain documents from petitioner United States Department of State. The subject of the request was defined as "documents indicating whether Dr. Ali Behzadnia and Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi . . . hold valid U. S. passports." App. 8. The request indicated that respondent would "accept any record held by the Passport Office indicating whether either of these persons is an American citizen." Ibid. At the time of the request, both Behzadnia and Yazdi were Iranian nationals living in Iran.
The State Department denied respondent's request the following month, stating that release of the requested information "would be `a clearly unwarranted invasion of [the] personal privacy' of these persons," id., at 14 (quoting 5 U. S. C. § 552(b)(6)), and therefore was exempt from disclosure under Exemption 6 of the FOIA.
While pursuing the administrative appeal, respondent brought an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to enjoin petitioners from withholding the requested documents. Both sides filed affidavits and motions for summary judgment. Petitioners' affidavit, from the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, explained that both Behzadnia and Yazdi were prominent figures in Iran's Revolutionary Government and that compliance with respondent's request would "cause a real threat of physical harm" to both men.
Similarly, the Senate Judiciary Committee reached a "consensus that these [personal] files should not be opened to the public, and . . . decided upon a general exemption rather than a number of specific statutory authorizations for various agencies." S. Rep. No. 813, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 9 (1965) (emphasis added). The Committee concluded that the balancing of private against public interests, not the nature of the files in which the information was contained, should limit the scope of the exemption: "It is believed that the scope of the exemption is held within bounds by the use of the limitation of `a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.' " Ibid. Thus, "the primary concern of Congress in drafting
Respondent relies upon passing references in the legislative history to argue that the phrase "similar files" does not include all files which contain information about particular individuals, but instead is limited to files containing "intimate details" and "highly personal" information. See H. R. Rep. No. 1497, supra, at 11; S. Rep. No. 813, supra, at 9. We disagree. Passing references and isolated phrases are not controlling when analyzing a legislative history. Congress' statements that it was creating a "general exemption" for information contained in "great quantities of files," H. R. Rep. No. 1497, supra, at 11, suggest that the phrase "similar files" was to have a broad, rather than a narrow, meaning. This impression is confirmed by the frequent characterization of the "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" language as a "limitation" which holds Exemption 6 "within bounds." S. Rep. No. 813, supra, at 9. See also, H. R. Rep. No. 1497, supra, at 11; S. Rep. No. 1219, 88th Cong., 2d Sess., 14 (1964). Had the words "similar files" been intended to be only a narrow addition to "personnel and medical files," there would seem to be no reason for concern about the exemption's being "held within bounds," and there surely would be clear suggestions in the legislative history that such a narrow meaning was intended. We have found none.
A proper analysis of the exemption must also take into account the fact that "personnel and medical files," the two benchmarks for measuring the term "similar files," are likely to contain much information about a particular individual that is not intimate. Information such as place of birth, date of birth, date of marriage, employment history, and comparable data is not normally regarded as highly personal, and yet respondent does not disagree that such information, if contained in a "personnel" or "medical" file, would be exempt from any disclosure that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The passport information
We agree with petitioners' argument that adoption of respondent's limited view of Exemption 6 would produce anomalous results. Under the plain language of the exemption, nonintimate information about a particular individual which happens to be contained in a personnel or medical file can be withheld if its release would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. And yet under respondent's view of the exemption, the very same information, being non-intimate and therefore not within the "similar files" language, would be subject to mandatory disclosure if it happened to be contained in records other than personnel or medical files. "[T]he protection of an individual's right of privacy" which Congress sought to achieve by preventing "the disclosure of [information] which might harm the individual," H. R. Rep. No. 1497, supra, at 11, surely was not intended to turn upon the label of the file which contains the damaging information. In Department of Air Force v. Rose, supra, at 372, we recognized that the protection of Exemption 6 is not determined merely by the nature of the file in which the requested information is contained:
By the same reasoning, information about an individual should not lose the protection of Exemption 6 merely because it is stored by an agency in records other than "personnel" or "medical" files.
The citizenship information sought by respondent satisfies the "similar files" requirement of Exemption 6, and petitioners' denial of the request should have been sustained upon a showing by the Government that release of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
It is so ordered.
"There is intense anti-American sentiment in Iran and several Iranian revolutionary leaders have been strongly criticized in the press for their alleged ties to the United States. Any individual in Iran who is suspected of being an American citizen or of having American connections is looked upon with mistrust. An official of the Government of Iran who is reputed to be an American citizen would, in my opinion, be in physical danger from some of the revolutionary groups that are prone to violence.
"It is the position of the Department of State that any statement at this time by the United States Government which could be construed or misconstrued to indicate that any Iranian public official is currently a United States citizen is likely to cause a real threat of physical harm to that person." Affidavit of Harold H. Saunders, Jan. 14, 1980, App. 17.
The affidavit reported that Yazdi, who had previously held the position of Foreign Minister, was currently a member of the Revolutionary Council and was responsible for solving problems in various regions of Iran. It also indicated that Behzadnia had been a senior official in the Ministry of National Guidance, but that the State Department had not received any report of his activities in recent weeks. Ibid. A supplemental affidavit, executed three months after the first affidavit, stated that Yazdi had been elected to the Iranian National Assembly, but that the activities of Behzadnia were still unreported. Supplemental Affidavit of Harold H. Saunders, Apr. 22, 1980, App. 41.
"It is apparent that the exemption is intended to exclude from the disclosure requirements all personnel and medical files, and all private or personal information contained in other files which, if disclosed to the public, would amount to a clearly unwarranted invasion of the privacy of any person." Attorney General's Memorandum on the Public Information Section of the Administrative Procedure Act 36 (June 1967) (emphasis added).
Even under the Court of Appeals' holding in Simpson, however, the fact that citizenship is a matter of public record somewhere in the Nation cannot be decisive, since it would seem almost certain that the information concerning marital status that was withheld in Simpson would likewise be contained in public records. In addition, "personnel" files, which expressly come within Exemption 6, are likely to contain much information that is equally a matter of public record. Place of birth, date of birth, marital status, past criminal convictions, and acquisition of citizenship are some examples. The public nature of information may be a reason to conclude, under all the circumstances of a given case, that the release of such information would not constitute a "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," but it does not militate against a conclusion that files are "similar" to personnel and medical files.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR concurs in the judgment.