FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: D.C. Circuit rules that FOIA may apply to non-government email accounts

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Court: Officials can't use private email accounts to evade records laws

By Megan R. Wilson, The Hill, July 5, 2016

Federal officials may not use private mail accounts to get around public records laws, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned a lower court decision in which judges dismissed claims from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that attempted to obtain correspondence from a top White House official through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) said it did not need to search for or turn over records held by the head of OSTP on a private email account as part of the open records request.
In addition to official White House email, John Holdren, the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, also sent and received emails from a domain at the Woods Hole Research Center. 

Throughout the case, the government argued that “[d]ocuments on a nongovernmental email server are outside the possession or control of federal agencies, and thus beyond the scope of FOIA.” 

Judge David Sentelle, the chief judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, disagreed with that reasoning and order the lower court to reconsider the case.

Read more here.