A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS
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F.1. Exemption 1.--Classified Documents
The first FOIA exemption permits the withholding of properly classified documents. Information may be classified in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.
The rules for classification are established by the President and not the FOIA or other law. The FOIA provides that, if a document has been properly classified under a Presidential Executive order, the document can be withheld from disclosure.
Classified documents may be requested under the FOIA. An agency can review the document to determine if it still requires protection. In addition, the Executive order on security classification establishes a special procedure for requesting the declassification of documents.\25\ If a requested document is declassified, it can be released in response to a FOIA request. However, a document that is declassified may still be exempt under other FOIA exemptions.
\25\ At the time that this Guide was prepared, the current Executive order on security classification was Executive Order 12958, which was promulgated by President Clinton on Apr. 17, 1995. The text of the order can be found at 60 Federal Register 19825-43 (Apr. 20, 1995); an electronic version of the order may be found on the Office of the Federal Register website provided at note 20. The rules for mandatory review for declassification are in section 3.6 of the Executive order.