Satellite Imagery FOIA Exemption

A proposed Freedom of Information Act exemption, restricting public access to satellite images and related data, appeared in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2005. The Senate passed the exemption in June 2004, and the broad language would have imposed strong restrictions on the dissemination of unclassified information that is relied upon for reporting to the public on disasters, international incidents, wars, and other news items.

The provision’s wording would have not only exempted the imagery from disclosure under FOIA, but would actually have prohibited the government from releasing the information.

Clarifications were made in the language during the House-Senate conference on the bill after public interest and access organizations pointed out concerns with the new exemption. The new language would apply only to imagery whose sale to non-government customers is already prohibited “for reasons of national security.” The new language also clarifies that any of the exempted information cannot be withheld from Congress.

Status: H.R. 4200 was passed Oct. 9, 2004.

OMB Watcher, Sept. 7, 2004,
Secrecy News, Oct. 12, 2004