The term “record” refers to a broad range of information that BPA generates or receives, including paper and electronic documents, emails, letters, charts and presentations, photographs, and videos. The FOIA does not require BPA to create new records, answer questions, or explain the records provided.
The FOIA authorizes – and in some cases requires – BPA to redact certain information contained in its records before releasing the record in response to a FOIA request. The FOIA lists nine grounds (or exemptions) for withholding information. These exemptions are summarized below:
Exemption 1: Classified information. BPA does not routinely handle classified information, and rarely uses this exemption.
Exemption 2: Information that pertains to internal personnel policies and practices of BPA. While BPA does not use this exemption often, it is occasionally used to protect records related to Human Resources functions.
Exemption 3: Information that federal statutes (besides FOIA) permit or require BPA to withhold. Certain federal statutes make specified types of records exempt from disclosure under FOIA. For example, under Exemption 3, BPA occasionally withholds information of archeological resources, pursuant to 16 USC § 470hh(a).
Exemption 4: Trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information provided to BPA. When a FOIA request includes commercial or financial information provided to BPA, BPA must ask the submitter of the information whether the information should be withheld. BPA then independently evaluates whether any requested redactions meet the requirements for withholding.
Exemption 5: Internal or inter-agency records can be protected from disclosure if they are:
- Attorney-client communications – Confidential legal advice and communications between BPA or government attorneys and BPA employees.
- Attorney work product – Documents prepared by an attorney in contemplation of litigation.
- Deliberative process – Information or discussions that inform and precede BPA decisions, including draft documents, policy recommendations, analyses, and briefing materials.
While many records qualify for protection under Exemption 5, BPA often voluntarily discloses this information when doing so would not result in foreseeable harm.
Exemption 6: Personal information that, if disclosed, would clearly invade an individual’s privacy. BPA uses this exemption to protect the personal information of employees and other individuals. Information redacted under Exemption 6 may include home addresses, Social Security numbers, certain personnel records including discipline matters, and health information. BPA cannot voluntarily release such information; information that falls under this exemption must be protected.
Exemption 7: Information that is compiled for law enforcement purposes when its disclosure would:
- Interfere with a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding.
- Deprive someone of a fair trial.
- Violate the privacy interests of a witness or other participant in a law enforcement matter.
- Disclose the identity of an informant, expose a sensitive law enforcement technique or procedure.
- Endanger the physical safety of an individual.
BPA maintains little law enforcement information and rarely uses Exemption 7.
Exemption 8: Information that relates to the examination of a financial institution. This exemption is never used by BPA.
Exemption 9: Certain geological and geophysical information. This exemption is rarely used by BPA.