Feds Can't Keep a Lid on Arrested Aliens' Records
(CN) - Public interest outweighs the government's interest in maintaining the privacy of six aliens whose criminal priors led to their arrests in 2011, the 1st Circuit ruled.
The New Hampshire Union Leader sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April 2012 after the agency denied its Freedom of Information Act request for the names and addresses of six so-called "criminal aliens" arrested in New Hampshire in 2011.
Citing FOIA Exemption 7(c), which protects against an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" in law enforcement records, a federal judge in Concord ruled that the names and addresses of the arrestees were exempt from release.
The 1st Circuit reversed on April 18, ruling that the public interest in "knowing what [the] government is up to" outweighs privacy interests of arrestees' and their criminal history.
"Disclosure of the redacted names will enable the Union Leader to investigate public records pertaining to the arrestees' prior convictions and arrests, potentially bringing to light the reasons for ICE's apparent torpor in removing these aliens," Judge Jeffrey Howard wrote for a three-member panel.
The Union Leader no longer seeks the addresses of the arrested illegal aliens, only their names - a narrower request that "might be viewed as substantively different than the broader one with which the district court was faced," according to the opinion.
The Union Leader argued that releasing the names would allow it and the public to track the processing of the arrestees by immigration agencies and courts.
It noted as an example that an immigration judge had ordered one of the arrested aliens removed from the country in 1988. Obtaining that person's name would allow the newspaper to track what communications, if any, took place between agencies after the removal order "such that this alien still remained in New Hampshire 23 years later," the newspaper said, as summarized by Howard.
The Boston-based appeals court agreed, stating that the newspaper had "identified a public interest in disclosure of the arrestees' names."