Freedom of Information/Exemptions

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Freedom of information laws generally start out with a class of documents (e.g. all official documents of government agencies) and then allows exemptions from this class. This page sets out the exemptions and refers to the implementation of those exemptions in various jurisdictions.

Comparison across jurisdictions[edit | edit source]

Where the table below refers to a legislative provision without specifying an Act, presume it refers to that jurisdiction's FOI Act or equivalent.

Exemption Australia (Commonwealth)
FOI Act 1982 (Cth)
United States
5 USC 552(b)
Documents already publicly available s 12
Museum artefacts &c s 13
National security s 33 (1)
Cabinet documents s 34
Law enforcement & public safety s 37 (7)
Otherwise statutorily secret s 38 (3)
Legal professional privilege s 42 (5)
Confidential information (as in legal liability for breach of confidence) s 45
Contempt of Parliament or of a court s 46
Trade secrets and commercially-valuable information s 47 (4)
Foreign/federal relations ss 33(a)(iii), (b), 47B
Deliberative processes/working papers s 47C (5)
Adverse affect on government finances s 47D
Adverse effect on government operations s 47E
Personal information s 47F (6)
Business information s 47G
Research (scientific &c) s 47H
Adverse effect on the economy s 47J
Parliamentary Budget Office documents s 45A
Electoral rolls s 47A
Information about wells N/A (9)

What public interests are protected by each exemption?[edit | edit source]

Documents already publicly available[edit | edit source]

Museum artefacts &c[edit | edit source]

This exemption was intended 'to ensure that private collections of papers deposited with these institutions are not available' (EM, FOI Bill 1978, 7 [27]).

But note that an agency cannot avoid the FOI Act by depositing its papers with a museum/Archives/etc: EM, FOI Bill 1978, 7 [29]

National security[edit | edit source]

Cabinet documents[edit | edit source]

Law enforcement & public safety[edit | edit source]

Otherwise statutorily secret[edit | edit source]

Legal professional privilege[edit | edit source]

Confidential information[edit | edit source]

Contempt of Parliament or of a court[edit | edit source]

Trade secrets and commercially-valuable information[edit | edit source]

Foreign/federal relations[edit | edit source]

Deliberative processes/working papers[edit | edit source]

'[The exemption] is based on the view, as expressed the United States Supreme Court, that the frank discussion of legal and policy matters in writing might be inhibited if the discussion were made public and 'that human experience teaches that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candour with a concern of appearance ..... to the detriment of the decision-making processes'.': EM, FOI Bill 1978, 20 [100]

'[A]mongst the wide class of [internal working papers], there will be many documents that can be made public without harm to the public interest, whether because they are documents of a routine or predominantly factual character or because the information contained in them has already been made public.': EM, FOI Bill 1978, 21 [103].

Adverse affect on government finances[edit | edit source]

Adverse effect on government operations[edit | edit source]

Personal information[edit | edit source]

Business information[edit | edit source]

Research (scientific &c)[edit | edit source]

Adverse effect on the economy[edit | edit source]