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First Amendment Library:
Kevin T. Baine


On the basis of information provided by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) compiles and maintains criminal identification records or "rap-sheets" on millions of persons, which contain descriptive information as well as a history of arrests, charges, convictions, and incarcerations. After the FBI denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by respondents, a CBS news correspondent and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, they filed suit in the District Court seeking the rap-sheet for one Charles Medico insofar as it contained "matters of public record." Since the Pennsylvania Crime Commission had identified Medico's family company as a legitimate business dominated by organized crime figures, and since the company allegedly had obtained a number of defense contracts as a result of an improper arrangement with a corrupt Congressman, respondents asserted that a record of financial crimes by Medico would potentially be a matter of public interest. Petitioner Department of Justice responded that it had no record of such crimes, but refused to confirm or deny whether it had any information concerning nonfinancial crimes by Medico. The court granted summary judgment for the Department, holding, inter alia, that the rap-sheet was protected by Exemption 7(C) of the FOIA, which excludes from that statute's disclosure requirements records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes "to the extent that the production of such [materials] . . . could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of" personal privacy. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding, among other things, that district courts should limit themselves in this type of case to making the factual determination whether the subject's legitimate privacy interest in his rap-sheet is outweighed by the public interest in disclosure because the original information appears on the public record.