Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Coast Guard leaves FOIA out at sea

Unlucky boaters and ice fishers of the world, take heart: Apparently the Coast Guard believes that its rescue duties encompass the duty to save you from embarrassment.

Journalistic watchdogs over at the Poynter Institute report that the Coast Guard is withholding names of people it has rescued.

It embarked on the policy after the Cleveland Plain Dealer sought the names to determine if, as rumor had it, the Guard was rescuing serial offenders – specifically, people who put themselves in peril while ice fishing each year. (It should be noted that the Coast Guard first held a TWO-YEAR review).

One might think that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) should cover this information, or that civilian rescue records aren't privy to medical privacy laws.

But Poynter quotes a Navy Times' story on the new policy:

The Coast Guard believes the names of individuals rescued are protected under a FOIA exemption that prohibits disclosures that “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy."
What do you think? Is this the sort of peril from which the government should protect those it serves?

Anyone out there have any experience dealing with FOIA and the Coast Guard or military?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

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