Redacting Documents


The law states that any "reasonably segregable" portions of an otherwise exempt record will be provided to a requester after redaction of parts which are not to be disclosed. The review process may include redacting (blacking out) material which is exempt. However, where non-exempt material is so "inextricably intertwined" that disclosure of it would leave only meaningless words and phrases, or where the editing required for partial disclosure would be so extensive as to effectively result in the creation of new records, the entire record may be withheld. Consult General Counsel if contemplating a response which asserts materials are nonsegregable.

Redacting Documents - Checklist

In response to FOIA requests, appeals, or litigation, FOIA Liaisons may be asked to provide copies of documents to the NOAA FOIA Officer, who will forward them to the Department of Commerce FOIA Officer, as well as to the appropriate Attorney/Advisor in the Office of the General Counsel.

How agencies notify FOIA requesters of the amount of information that has been deleted or withheld in a FOIA request

Agencies should follow a commonsense rule of advising requesters about withheld information in whatever way most effectively indicates the nature of what is being withheld.

Under the Electronic FOIA amendments, agencies are ordinarily obligated to indicate the amount of information that has been deleted from records that are withheld in part, see 5 U.S.C. § 552(b), as amended by Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, 5 U.S.C.A. § 552(b) (West Supp. 1997), and also to advise the requester of the volume of what is withheld as exempt whenever entire records (or entire pages of them) are being withheld, see 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(F) (as amended). See FOIA Update, Fall 1996, at 11.)

As a practical matter, agencies usually will meet the first of these two obligations through administrative markings on redacted records, including records that are disclosed in electronic form.See FOIA Update, Winter 1997, at 6. To meet the second obligation, agencies must, in the words of the statute, "make a reasonable effort to estimate the volume" of what is being entirely withheld." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(F). This volume estimate usually will take the form of numbers of pages of records that are being withheld in their entireties--and in relatively small-volume cases, it should be reasonably possible to provide an exact page count. In larger-volume cases, an agency may use a page-count estimate. In some such cases, an agency may give a specification or an estimate of the number of entire documents withheld, so long as it also gives the requester a good understanding of the volume of those documents. It is even possible that in some cases, such as where a large volume of records is withheld to prevent harm to an ongoing law enforcement investigation under Exemption 7(A), an agency's estimate of the volume of what is being withheld (if it would cause no harm to provide it) could best be expressed in terms of boxes, file cabinet drawers, or even linear feet of withheld records. For withheld records that exist in electronic form, an agency could use either an applicable electronic form of measurement (e.g., kilobytes, megabytes, or an electronic "word count"), or a more conventional record equivalent (e.g., standard document pages), whichever would be the most effective means of estimating the volume of those records for the requester.