Justice KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, requires federal
Congress enacted FOIA to overhaul the public-disclosure section of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. § 1002 (1964 ed.). That section of the APA "was plagued with vague phrases" and gradually became more "a withholding statute than a disclosure statute." EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 79, 93 S.Ct. 827, 35 L.Ed.2d 119 (1973). Congress intended FOIA to "permit access to official information long shielded unnecessarily from public view." Id., at 80, 93 S.Ct. 827. FOIA thus mandates that an agency disclose records on request, unless they fall within one of nine exemptions. These exemptions are "explicitly made exclusive," id., at 79, 93 S.Ct. 827, and must be "narrowly construed," FBI v. Abramson, 456 U.S. 615, 630, 102 S.Ct. 2054, 72 L.Ed.2d 376 (1982).
At issue here is Exemption 2, which shields from compelled disclosure documents "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." § 552(b)(2). Congress enacted Exemption 2 to replace the APA's exemption for "any matter relating solely to the internal management of an agency," 5 U.S.C. § 1002 (1964 ed.). Believing that the "sweep" of the phrase "internal management" had led to excessive withholding, Congress drafted Exemption 2 "to have a narrower reach." Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 362-363, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976).
We considered the extent of that reach in Department of Air Force v. Rose. There, we rejected the Government's invocation of Exemption 2 to withhold case summaries of honor and ethics hearings at the United States Air Force Academy. The exemption, we suggested, primarily targets material concerning employee relations or human resources: "use of parking facilities or regulations of lunch hours, statements of policy as to sick leave, and the like." Id., at 363, 96 S.Ct. 1592 (quoting S.Rep. No. 813, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 8 (1965) (hereinafter S.Rep.)); see Rose, 425 U.S., at 367, 96 S.Ct. 1592. "[T]he general thrust" of Exemption 2, we explained, "is simply to relieve agencies of the burden of assembling and maintaining [such information] for public inspection." Id., at 369, 96 S.Ct. 1592. We concluded that the case summaries did not fall within the exemption because they "d[id] not concern only routine matters" of "merely internal significance." Id., at 370, 96 S.Ct. 1592. But we stated a possible caveat to our interpretation of Exemption 2: That understanding of the provision's coverage governed, we wrote, "at least where the situation is not one where disclosure may risk circumvention of agency regulation." Id., at 369, 96 S.Ct. 1592.
In Crooker v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, 670 F.2d 1051 (1981), the D.C. Circuit converted this caveat into a new definition of Exemption 2's scope. Crooker approved the use of Exemption 2 to shield a manual designed to train Government agents in law enforcement surveillance techniques. The D.C. Circuit noted that it previously had understood Exemption 2 to "refe[r] only to `pay, pensions,
In the ensuing years, three Courts of Appeals adopted the D.C. Circuit's interpretation of Exemption 2. See 575 F.3d 959, 965 (C.A.9 2009) (case below); Massey v. FBI, 3 F.3d 620, 622 (C.A.2 1993); Kaganove v. EPA, 856 F.2d 884, 889 (C.A.7 1988).
The FOIA request at issue here arises from the Navy's operations at Naval Magazine Indian Island, a base in Puget Sound, Washington. The Navy keeps weapons, ammunition, and explosives on the island. To aid in the storage and transport of these munitions, the Navy uses data known as Explosive Safety Quantity Distance (ESQD) information. 575 F.3d, at 962. ESQD information prescribes "minimum separation distances" for explosives and helps the Navy design and construct storage facilities to prevent chain reactions in case of detonation. Ibid. The ESQD calculations are often incorporated into specialized maps depicting the effects of hypothetical explosions. See, e.g., App. 52.
The District Court granted summary judgment to the Navy, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, relying on the High 2 interpretation developed in Crooker. 575 F.3d, at 963. The Court of Appeals explained that the ESQD information "is predominantly used for the internal purpose of instructing agency personnel on how to do their jobs." Id., at 968. And disclosure of the material, the court determined, "would risk circumvention of the law" by "point[ing] out the best targets for those bent on wreaking havoc"—for example, "[a] terrorist who wished to hit the most damaging target." Id., at 971. The ESQD information, the court concluded, therefore qualified for a High 2 exemption. 575 F.3d, at 971.
We granted certiorari in light of the Circuit split respecting Exemption 2's meaning, 561 U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 3505, 177 L.Ed.2d 1089 (2010), and we now reverse.
Our consideration of Exemption 2's scope starts with its text. See, e.g., Park `N Fly, Inc. v. Dollar Park & Fly, Inc., 469 U.S. 189, 194, 105 S.Ct. 658, 83 L.Ed.2d 582 (1985) ("Statutory construction must begin with the language employed by Congress and the assumption that the ordinary meaning of that language accurately expresses the legislative purpose"). Judicial decisions since FOIA's enactment have analyzed and reanalyzed the meaning of the exemption. But comparatively little attention has focused on the provision's 12 simple words: "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency."
The key word in that dozen—the one that most clearly marks the provision's boundaries—is "personnel." When used as an adjective, as it is here to modify "rules and practices," that term refers to human resources matters. "Personnel," in this common parlance, means "the selection, placement, and training of employees and . . . the formulation of policies, procedures, and relations with [or involving] employees or their representatives." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1687 (1966) (hereinafter Webster's). So, for example, a "personnel department" is "the department of a business firm that deals with problems affecting the employees of the firm and that usually interviews applicants for jobs." Random House Dictionary 1075 (1966) (hereinafter Random House). "Personnel management" is similarly "the phase of management concerned with the engagement and effective utilization of manpower to obtain optimum efficiency of human resources." Webster's 1687. And a "personnel agency" is "an agency for placing employable persons in jobs; employment agency." Random House 1075.
Exemption 2 uses "personnel" in the exact same way. An agency's "personnel rules and practices" are its rules and practices dealing with employee relations or human resources. The D.C. Circuit, in a pre-Crooker decision, gave as examples "matters relating to pay, pensions, vacations, hours of work, lunch hours, parking, etc." Jordan, 591 F.2d, at 763; see supra, at 1262-1263. That "etc." is important; we doubt any court could know enough about the Federal Government's operations to formulate a comprehensive list. But all the rules and practices referenced in Exemption 2 share a critical feature: They concern the conditions of employment in federal agencies—such matters as hiring and firing, work rules and discipline, compensation and benefits.
The statute's purpose reinforces this understanding of the exemption. We have often noted "the Act's goal of broad disclosure" and insisted that the exemptions be "given a narrow compass." Department of Justice v. Tax Analysts, 492 U.S. 136, 151, 109 S.Ct. 2841, 106 L.Ed.2d 112 (1989); see Department of Interior v. Klamath Water Users Protective Assn., 532 U.S. 1, 7-8, 121 S.Ct. 1060, 149 L.Ed.2d 87 (2001).
The Government resists giving "personnel" its plain meaning on the ground that Congress, when drafting Exemption 2, considered but chose not to enact language exempting "internal employment rules and practices." Brief for Respondent 30-34, and n. 11. This drafting history, the Navy maintains, proves that Congress did not wish "to limit the Exemption to employment-related matters," id., at 31, even if the adjective "personnel" conveys that meaning in other contexts, id., at 41. But we think the Navy's evidence insufficient: The scant history concerning this word change as easily supports the inference that Congress merely swapped one synonym for another. Cf. Mead Corp. v. Tilley, 490 U.S. 714, 723, 109 S.Ct. 2156, 104 L.Ed.2d 796 (1989) (noting with respect to the "unexplained disappearance of one word from an unenacted bill" that "mute intermediate legislative maneuvers are not reliable" aids to statutory interpretation (internal quotation marks omitted)). Those of us who make use of legislative history believe that clear evidence of congressional intent may illuminate ambiguous text. We will not take the opposite tack of allowing ambiguous legislative history to muddy clear statutory language.
Exemption 2, as we have construed it, does not reach the ESQD information at issue here. These data and maps calculate and visually portray the magnitude of hypothetical detonations. By no stretch of imagination do they relate to "personnel rules and practices," as that term is most naturally understood. They concern the physical rules governing explosives, not the workplace rules governing sailors; they address the handling of dangerous materials, not the treatment of employees. The Navy therefore may not use Exemption 2, interpreted in accord with its plain meaning to cover human resources matters, to prevent disclosure of the requested maps and data.
The Government offers two alternative readings of Exemption 2 to support withholding the ESQD information. We cannot square either with the statute.
The Navy first encourages us to adopt the construction of Exemption 2 pioneered by Crooker, which shields material not only if it meets the criteria set out above (Low 2), but also if it is "predominant[ly] interna[l]" and its "disclosure would significantly risk[ ] circumvention of federal agency functions" (High 2). Brief for Respondent 41 (internal quotation marks
In support of its text-light approach to the statute, the Government relies primarily on legislative history, placing particular emphasis on the House Report concerning FOIA. See Brief for Respondent 33-38. A statement in that Report buttresses the High 2 understanding of the exemption and, indeed, specifically rejects the Low 2 construction. According to the Report: "Operating rules, guidelines, and manuals of procedure for Government investigators or examiners would be exempt from disclosure [under Exemption 2], but this exemption would not cover . . . employee relations and working conditions and routine administrative procedures." H.R.Rep. No. 1497, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 10 (1966), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1966, pp. 2418, 2427. But the Senate Report says exactly the opposite, explaining in support of a Low 2 interpretation that the phrase "internal personnel rules and practices of an agency" means "rules as to personnel's use of parking facilities or regulation of lunch hours, statements of policy as to sick leave, and the like." S. Rep., at 8.
The Government also advances, in support of Crooker's High 2 approach, an argument based on subsequent legislative action. Congress, the Government notes, amended Exemption 7(E) in 1986 to cover law enforcement records whose production "would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law." § 552(b)(7)(E). That amendment, the Government contends, codified Crooker's "circumvention of the law" standard and, in so doing, ratified Crooker's holding. Brief for Respondent 42-43. The dissent likewise counts as significant that Congress "t[ook] note" of Crooker in revising FOIA. Post, at 1278; see post, at 1274.
But the Government and the dissent neglect the key feature of the 1986
The dissent offers one last reason to embrace High 2, and indeed stakes most of its wager on this argument. Crooker, the dissent asserts, "has been consistently relied upon and followed for 30 years" by other lower courts. Post, at 1279; see post, at 1273-1274. But this claim, too, trips at the starting gate. It would be immaterial even if true, because we have no warrant to ignore clear statutory language on the ground that other courts have done so. And in any event, it is not true. Prior to Crooker, three Circuits adopted the reading of Exemption 2 we think right, and they have not changed their minds. See n. 2, supra.
Presumably because Crooker so departs from Exemption 2's language, the Government also offers another construction, which it says we might adopt "on a clean slate," "based on the plain text . . . alone." Brief for Respondent 15. On this reading, the exemption "encompasses records concerning an agency's internal rules and practices for its personnel to follow in the discharge of their governmental functions." Id., at 20; see also id., at 13-14 (Exemption 2 "applies generally to matters concerning internal rules and practices to guide agency personnel in performing their duties"). According to the Government, this interpretation makes sense because "the phrase `personnel rules and practices of an agency' is logically understood to mean an agency's rules and practices for its personnel." Id., at 20 (emphasis added).
But the purported logic in the Government's definition eludes us. We would not say, in ordinary parlance, that a "personnel file" is any file an employee uses, or that a "personnel department" is any department in which an employee serves. No more would we say that a "personnel rule or practice" is any rule or practice that assists an employee in doing her job. The use of the term "personnel" in each of these phrases connotes not that the file or department or practice/rule is for personnel, but rather that the file or department or practice/rule is about personnel—i.e., that it relates to employee relations or human resources. This case well illustrates the point. The records requested, as earlier noted, are explosives data and maps showing the distances that potential blasts travel. This information no doubt assists Navy personnel in storing munitions. But that is not to say that the data and maps relate to "personnel rules and practices." No one staring at these charts of explosions and using ordinary language would describe them in this manner.
Indeed, the Government's "clean slate" construction reaches such documents only by stripping the word "personnel" of any real meaning. Under this interpretation, an agency's "internal personnel rules and practices" appears to mean all its internal rules and practices. That is because agencies necessarily operate through personnel, and so all their internal rules and practices are for personnel. The modifier "personnel," then, does no modifying work; it does
And this odd reading would produce a sweeping exemption, posing the risk that FOIA would become less a disclosure than "a withholding statute." Mink, 410 U.S., at 79, 93 S.Ct. 827. Many documents an agency generates in some way aid employees in carrying out their responsibilities. If Exemption 2 were to reach all these records, it would tend to engulf other FOIA exemptions, rendering ineffective the limitations Congress placed on their application. Exemption 7, for example, shields records compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only if one of six specified criteria is met. § 552(b)(7). Yet on the Government's view, an agency could bypass these restrictions by invoking Exemption 2 whenever law enforcement records guide personnel in performing their duties. Indeed, an agency could use Exemption 2 as an all-purpose back-up provision to withhold sensitive records that do not fall within any of FOIA's more targeted exemptions.
Interpreted in this way, Exemption 2—call it "Super 2" now—would extend, rather than narrow, the APA's former exemption for records relating to the "internal management of an agency." 5 U.S.C. § 1002 (1964 ed.). We doubt that even the "internal management" provision, which Congress thought allowed too much withholding, see supra, at 1262, would have protected all information that guides employees in the discharge of their duties, including the explosives data and maps in this case. And perhaps needless to say, this reading of Exemption 2 violates the rule favoring narrow construction of FOIA exemptions. See, e.g., Abramson, 456 U.S., at 630, 102 S.Ct. 2054; Rose, 425 U.S., at 361, 96 S.Ct. 1592. Super 2 in fact has no basis in the text, context, or purpose of FOIA, and we accordingly reject it.
Although we cannot interpret Exemption 2 as the Government proposes, we recognize the strength of the Navy's interest in protecting the ESQD data and maps and other similar information. The Government has informed us that "[p]public disclosing the [ESQD] information would significantly risk undermining the Navy's ability to safely and securely store military ordnance," Brief for Respondent 47, and we have no reason to doubt that representation.
We also note, however, that the Government has other tools at hand to shield national security information and other sensitive materials. Most notably, Exemption 1 of FOIA prevents access to classified documents. § 552(b)(1); see 575 F.3d, at 980 (W. Fletcher, J., dissenting) (Exemption 1 is "specifically designed to allow government agencies to withhold information that might jeopardize our national security"). The Government generally may classify material even after receiving a FOIA request, see Exec. Order No. 13526, § 1.7(d), 75 We're. 711 (2009); an agency therefore may wait until that time to decide whether the dangers of disclosure outweigh the costs of classification. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 29-30. Exemption 3 also may mitigate the Government's security concerns. That provision applies to records that any other statute exempts from disclosure, § 552(b)(3), thus offering Congress an established, streamlined method to authorize the withholding of specific records that FOIA would not otherwise protect. And Exemption 7, as already noted, protects "information compiled for law enforcement purposes" that meets one of six criteria, including if its release "could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual." § 552(b)(7)(F). The Navy argued below that the ESQD data and maps fall within Exemption 7(F), see n. 3, supra, and that claim remains open for the Ninth Circuit to address on remand.
If these or other exemptions do not cover records whose release would threaten the Nation's vital interests, the Government may of course seek relief from Congress. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 48. All we hold today is that Congress has not enacted the FOIA exemption the Government desires. We leave to Congress, as is appropriate, the question whether it should do so.
Exemption 2, consistent with the plain meaning of the term "personnel rules and practices," encompasses only records relating to issues of employee relations and human resources. The explosives maps and data requested here do not qualify for withholding under that exemption. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice ALITO, concurring.
I agree with the Court that the text of Exemption 2 of the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 cannot support the "High 2" interpretation that courts have adopted and applied over the years. As the Court explains, however, the Government may avail itself of numerous other exemptions, see ante, at 1271—exemptions that may have been overshadowed in recent years by the broad reach of High 2. I write separately to underscore the alternative argument that the Navy raised below,
Exemption 7 applies to specific categories of information "compiled for law enforcement purposes." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). In particular, Exemption 7(F) permits withholding of "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" that, if disclosed, "could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual." § 552(b)(7)(F). In most cases involving security information, it is not difficult to show that disclosure may "endanger the life or physical safety of any individual." A more difficult question, however, is whether the information is "compiled for law enforcement purposes." See John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 153, 110 S.Ct. 471, 107 L.Ed.2d 462 (1989) ("Before it may invoke [Exemption 7], the Government has the burden of proving the existence of . . . a compilation for such a purpose"). In my view, this phrase reasonably encompasses information used to fulfill official security and crime prevention duties.
"Law enforcement purposes." The ordinary understanding of law enforcement includes not just the investigation and prosecution of offenses that have already been committed, but also proactive steps designed to prevent criminal activity and to maintain security. A "law enforcement officer" is defined as one "whose duty it is to preserve the peace," Black's Law Dictionary 796 (5th D.C.), and fulfilling that duty involves a range of activities. Police on the beat aim to prevent crime from occurring, and they no less carry out "law enforcement purposes" than officers investigating a crime scene. Similarly, a "law-enforcement agency" is charged with "the apprehension of alleged offenders as well as crime detection and prevention." R. De Sol, Crime Dictionary 82 (1982) (emphasis added).
Crime prevention and security measures are critical to effective law enforcement as we know it. There can be no doubt, for example, that the Secret Service acts with a law enforcement purpose when it protects federal officials from attack, even though no investigation may be ongoing. Likewise, steps by law enforcement officers to prevent terrorism surely fulfill "law enforcement purposes." Particularly in recent years, terrorism prevention and national security measures have been recognized as vital to effective law enforcement efforts in our Nation. Indeed, "[a]after the September 11th attacks on America," the priorities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation "shifted dramatically," and the FBI's "top priority became the prevention of another terrorist attack." Hearings before the Subcommittee on Science, the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce, and Related Agencies of the House Committee on Appropriations, 109th Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 10, 232 (2006) (testimony of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III). Today, "[t]he FBI's number one priority continues to be the prevention of terrorist attacks against the United States." Hearings before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 111th Cong., 2d Sess, p. ___ (Sept. 22, 2010) (testimony of Mueller). If crime prevention and security measures do not serve "law enforcement purposes," then those charged with law enforcement responsibilities have little chance of fulfilling their duty to preserve the peace.
The context of Exemption 7 confirms that, read naturally, "law enforcement purposes" involve more than just investigation and prosecution. As Exemption 7's subparagraphs demonstrate, Congress knew how to refer to these narrower activities.
"Compiled for law enforcement purposes." This Court has given a fairly broad meaning to "compiled" under § 552(b)(7). In John Doe Agency, we held that information need not have been originally "compiled for law enforcement purposes" to satisfy Exemption 7's threshold requirement. Rather, "even though . . . documents were put together at an earlier time for a different purpose," they may fall within Exemption 7 if they are later assembled for law enforcement purposes. 493 U.S., at 154-155, 110 S.Ct. 471. For example, documents originally gathered for routine business purposes may fall within Exemption 7 if they are later compiled for use in a criminal investigation. Similarly, federal building plans and related information—which may have been compiled originally for architectural planning or internal purposes—may fall within Exemption 7 if that information is later compiled and given to law enforcement officers for security purposes.
Documents compiled for multiple purposes are not necessarily deprived of Exemption 7's protection. The text of Exemption 7 does not require that the information be compiled solely for law enforcement purposes. Cf. § 552(b)(2) ("related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency"). Therefore, it may be enough that law enforcement purposes are a significant reason for the compilation.
In this case, the Navy has a fair argument that the Explosive Safety Quantity Distance (ESQD) information falls within Exemption 7(F). The ESQD information, the Navy argues, is used "for the purpose of identifying and addressing security issues" and for the "protection of people and property on the base, as well as in [the] nearby community, from the damage, loss, death, or injury that could occur from an accident or breach of security." Brief for Appellee in No. 07-36056(CA9), pp. 39-40. If, indeed, the ESQD information was compiled as part of an effort to prevent crimes of terrorism and to maintain security, there is a reasonable argument that the information has been "compiled for law enforcement purposes." § 552(b)(7). Assuming that this threshold requirement is satisfied, the ESQD information may fall comfortably within Exemption 7(F).
Justice BREYER, dissenting.
Justice Stevens has explained that, once "a statute has been construed, either by this Court or by a consistent course of decision by other federal judges and agencies," it can acquire a clear meaning that this Court should hesitate to change. See Shearson/American Express Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 268, 107 S.Ct. 2332, 96 L.Ed.2d 185 (1987) (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part) (emphasis added). See also Commissioner v. Fink, 483 U.S. 89, 104, 107 S.Ct. 2729, 97 L.Ed.2d 74 (1987) (Stevens, J., dissenting); B. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process 149 (1921). I would apply
For one thing, the Crooker decision, joined by 9 of the 10 sitting Circuit Judges, has been consistently followed, or favorably cited, by every Court of Appeals to have considered the matter during the past 30 years. See ibid. (written by Judge Edwards, and joined by Chief Judge Robinson and Judges Wright, MacKinnon, Robb, Wald, Mikva, and then-Judge Ginsburg, with Judge Tamm concurring in the result and Judge Wilkey dissenting); Massey v. FBI, 3 F.3d 620, 622 (C.A.2 1993); Kaganove v. EPA, 856 F.2d 884, 889 (C.A.7 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1011, 109 S.Ct. 798, 102 L.Ed.2d 789 (1989); Dirksen v. HHS, 803 F.2d 1456, 1458 (C.A.9 1986). Three Circuits adopted a different approach in the 1970's before Crooker was decided, see ante, at 1263, n. 2, but I read subsequent decisions in two of those Circuits as not adhering to their early positions. See Abraham & Rose, PLC v. United States, 138 F.3d 1075, 1080-1081 (C.A.6 1998) (finding Crooker's textual analysis "sound and persuasive," and noting that FBI symbols "used internally to identify confidential sources" may be withheld); Sladek v. Bensinger, 605 F.2d 899, 902 (C.A.5 1979) (expressly reserving judgment on the Crooker issue). As for the remaining Circuit, its district courts understand Crooker now to apply. See, e.g., Gavin v. SEC, No. 04-4522, 2007 WL 2454156, *5-*6 (D.Minn., Aug. 23, 2007); see also McQueen v. United States, 264 F.Supp.2d 502, 528 (S.D.Tex.2003), aff'd, 100 Fed.Appx. 964 (C.A.5 2004) (per curiam); Tickel v. IRS, No. 1-85-709, 1986 WL 14436, *2-*3 (E.D.Tenn., Aug. 22, 1986). I recognize that there is reasonable ground for disagreement over the precise status of certain pre-Crooker precedents, but the Crooker interpretation of Exemption 2 has guided nearly every Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case decided over the last 30 years. See generally Dept. of Justice, Guide to Freedom of Information Act, pp. 184-206 (2009) (FOIA Guide) (identifying over 100 district court decisions applying the Crooker approach, and one appearing to reject it).
Congress, moreover, well aware of Crooker, left Exemption 2, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2), untouched when it amended the FOIA five years later. See S.Rep. No. 98-221, p. 25 (1983) (discussing Crooker); Freedom of Information Reform Act of 1986, 100 Stat. 3207-48 (amending Exemption 7, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)).
This Court has found that circumstances of this kind offer significant support for retaining an interpretation of a statute that has been settled by the lower courts. See General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 540 U.S. 581, 593-594, 124 S.Ct. 1236, 157 L.Ed.2d 1094 (2004); Evans v. United States, 504 U.S. 255, 268-269, 112 S.Ct. 1881, 119 L.Ed.2d 57 (1992); Newman-Green, Inc. v. Alfonzo-Larrain, 490 U.S. 826, 833, 109 S.Ct. 2218, 104 L.Ed.2d 893 (1989); Monessen Southwestern R. Co. v. Morgan, 486 U.S. 330, 338-339, 108 S.Ct. 1837, 100 L.Ed.2d 349 (1988); Lindahl v. Office of Personnel Management, 470 U.S. 768, 781-783, 105 S.Ct. 1620, 84 L.Ed.2d 674 (1985); Herman & MacLean v. Huddleston, 459 U.S. 375, 385-386, 103 S.Ct. 683, 74 L.Ed.2d 548 (1983); Cannon v. University of Chicago, 441 U.S. 677, 702-703, 99 S.Ct. 1946, 60 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 731-732, 95 S.Ct. 1917, 44 L.Ed.2d 539 (1975); Gulf Oil Corp. v. Copp Paving Co., 419 U.S. 186, 200-201, 95 S.Ct. 392, 42 L.Ed.2d 378 (1974); Blau v. Lehman, 368 U.S. 403, 412-413, 82 S.Ct. 451, 7 L.Ed.2d 403 (1962). See generally W. Eskridge, P.
For another thing, even if the majority's analysis would have persuaded me if written on a blank slate, Crooker's analysis was careful and its holding reasonable. The Circuit Court examined the statute's language, the legislative history, and the precedent. It recognized that the exemption's words ("related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency") could easily be read, as the Court reads them today, to refer only to human resources rules and practices. See 670 F.2d, at 1056-1057. But it also thought that those words could be read more broadly as referring to internal rules or practices that set forth criteria or guidelines for agency personnel to follow in respect to purely internal matters (as long as the information at issue was "not of legitimate public interest"). Id., at 1056, 1057.
The D.C. Circuit agreed with today's Court that the Senate Report described the exemption as referring to "`internal personnel'" matters, giving as examples "`personnel's use of parking facilities, . . . sick leave, and the like.'" Id., at 1058-1059 (quoting S.Rep. No. 813, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., p. 8 (1965)). But it also noted that the House Report described the exemption as protecting from disclosure "`[o]perating rules, guidelines, and manuals of procedure for Government investigators or examiners.'" 670 F.2d, at 1060 (quoting H.R.Rep. No. 1497, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., p. 10 (1966), U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1966, pp. 2418, 2427). "[U]pon reflection," it thought the views of the two Houses "reconcilable" if one understood both sets of examples as referring to internal staff information (both minor personnel matters and staff instruction matters) that the public had no legitimate interest in learning about. 670 F.2d, at 1065. And it accepted this view in light of its hesitation to "apply individual provisions of the statute woodenly, oblivious to Congress' intention that FOIA not frustrate law enforcement efforts." Id., at 1066. At the same time it found no other exemption that would protect internal documents in which there is no legitimate public interest in disclosure—a category that includes, say, building plans, safe combinations, computer passwords, evacuation plans, and the like.
After examining in depth the legislative history and relevant precedent, the court adopted an approach based on a prior opinion by Circuit Judge Leventhal, as well as language used by this Court in Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 369, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976). The D.C. Circuit held that a document fits within the literal language of Exemption 2 and is exempt from disclosure if (1) it "meets the test of `predominant internality,'" i.e., the document is "not of legitimate public interest," and (2) "disclosure significantly risks circumvention of agency regulations or statutes." Crooker, supra, at 1056, 1074; see also Rose, supra, at 369, 96 S.Ct. 1592 (suggesting that Exemption 2 might apply where "disclosure may risk circumvention of agency regulation"). This test, based upon Congress' broader FOIA objectives and a "common sense" view of what information Congress did and did not want to make available, Crooker, supra, at 1074, takes the "practical approach" that this Court has "consistently . . . taken" when interpreting the FOIA, John Doe Agency v. John Doe Corp., 493 U.S. 146, 157, 110 S.Ct. 471, 107 L.Ed.2d 462 (1989).
Further, 30 years of experience with Crooker's holding suggests that it has not seriously interfered with the FOIA's informational objectives, while at the same time it has permitted agencies to withhold much information which, in my view, Congress would not have wanted to force into the public realm. To focus only on the case law, courts have held that that information protected by Exemption 2 includes blueprints for Department of Agriculture buildings that store biological agents, Elliott v. Department of Agriculture, 518 F.Supp.2d 217 (D.C.2007); documents that would help hackers access National Aeronautics and Space Administration computers, Knight v. NASA, No. 2:04-cv-2054-MCE-GGH, 2006 WL 3780901, *6 (E.D.Cal., Dec. 21, 2006); agency credit card numbers, Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, 83 F.Supp.2d 105, 110 (D.C.1999); Commodity Futures Trading Commission guidelines for settling cases, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n, No. 3:97 CV 7139, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23993, *10-*15 (ND Ohio, May 27, 1997); "trigger figures" that alert the Department of Education to possible mismanagement of federal funds, Wiesenfelder v. Riley, 959 F.Supp. 532, 536 (D.C. 1997); security plans for the Supreme Court Building and Supreme Court Justices, Voinche v. FBI, 940 F.Supp. 323, 328-329 (D.C.1996); vulnerability assessments of Commerce Department computer security plans, Schreibman v. Department of Commerce, 785 F.Supp. 164, 165-166 (D.C.1991); Bureau of Prisons guidelines for controlling riots and for storing hazardous chemicals, Miller v. DOJ, No. 87-0533, 1989 WL 10598 (D.C., Jan. 31, 1989); guidelines for assessing the sensitivity of military programs, Institute for Policy Studies v. Department of Air Force, 676 F.Supp. 3, 4-5 (D.C.1987); and guidelines for processing Medicare reimbursement
In other Exemption 2 cases, where withholding may seem less reasonable, the courts have ordered disclosure. Cf. ante, at 1270, n. 9 (citing Audubon Society v. Forest Serv., 104 F.3d 1201, 1203 (C.A.10 1997), and Maricopa Audubon Soc. v. Forest Serv., 108 F.3d 1082, 1084 (C.A.9 1997)). See generally FOIA Guide 201, and n. 106 (citing nine decisions applying the Crooker approach but nonetheless requiring disclosure).
The majority acknowledges that "our decision today upsets three decades of agency practice relying on Crooker, and therefore may force considerable adjustments." Ante, at 1271. But how are these adjustments to be made? Should the Government rely upon other exemptions to provide the protection it believes necessary? As Justice ALITO notes, Exemption 7 applies where the documents consist of "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" and release would, e.g., "disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations," or "could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7). But what about information that is not compiled for law enforcement purposes, such as building plans, computer passwords, credit card numbers, or safe deposit combinations? The Government, which has much experience litigating FOIA cases, warns us that Exemption 7 "targets only a subset of the important agency functions that may be circumvented." Brief for Respondent 52-53. Today's decision only confirms this point, as the Court's insistence on narrow construction might persuade judges to avoid reading Exemption 7 broadly enough to provide Crooker-type protection.
The majority suggests that the Government can classify documents that should remain private. Ante, at 1271. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1) (permitting withholding of material "properly classified" as authorized to be "kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy"). But classification is at best a partial solution. It takes time. It is subject to its own rules. As the Government points out, it would hinder the sharing of information about Government buildings with "first responders," such as local fire and police departments. Brief for Respondent 53-54. And both Congress and the President believe the Nation currently faces a problem of too much, not too little, classified material. See Reducing Over-Classification Act, 124 Stat. 2648; Exec. Order No. 13526, §§ 1.3(d), 2.1(d), 5.4(d)(10), 3 CFR 298, 299-300, 304, 321 (2009 Comp.). Indeed, Congress recently found:
These legislative findings suggest that it is "over-classification," not Crooker, that poses the more serious threat to the FOIA's public information objectives.
That leaves congressional action. As the Court points out, Congress remains free to correct whatever problems it finds in today's narrowing of Exemption 2. But legislative action takes time; Congress has much to do; and other matters, when compared
That is why: Where the courts have already interpreted Exemption 2, where that interpretation has been consistently relied upon and followed for 30 years, where Congress has taken note of that interpretation in amending other parts of the statute, where that interpretation is reasonable, where it has proved practically helpful and achieved commonsense results, where it is consistent with the FOIA's overall statutory goals, where a new and different interpretation raises serious problems of its own, and where that new interpretation would require Congress to act just to preserve a decades-long status quo, I would let sleeping legal dogs lie.
For these reasons, with respect, I dissent.