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Court Rules FOIA Reach Extends Into Private Email Accounts

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A federal court ruled Tuesday public officials can’t hide work emails on personal accounts, the same day FBI Director James Comey announced he will not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for sending and receiving classified emails on her private account and server when she was Secretary of State.

The U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia reversed a lower district court’s dismissal of a FOIA case in which the Office of Science and Technology Policy said it didn’t have to search for records on the private email account of its director to fulfill the request. The Competitive Enterprise Institute brought the case over the FOIA, demanding the emails of Director John Holdren, who is an Obama advisor, be included.

CEI had requested “all policy/OSTP-related email sent to or from jholdren@whrc.org.” But OSTP has refused to hand over those records, on the grounds they were under control of a “private organization” and therefore “beyond the reach of FOIA.”

But the U.S. Appeals Court pointed out that Holdren has full access to his own email account, saying an agency “cannot shield its records from search or disclosure under FOIA by the expedient of storing them in a private email account controlled by the agency head.”

An agency “always acts through its employees and officials,” the appeals court said. “If one of them possesses what would otherwise be agency records, the records do not lose their agency character just because the official who possesses them takes them out the door or because he is the head of the agency.”

The appeals court released that decision the same morning Comey said Democratic presidential hopeful Clinton should face no criminal charges over her email use, although Comey said Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified material, and she and her lawyers failed to hand over all of her work-related emails to the State Department. The FBI found no evidence Clinton or her team intentionally mishandled the information or deleted emails to obstruct justice, he said. (RELATED: FBI Director Comey Obliterated These Hillary Talking Points)

“Today’s ruling, as well as the recent news on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email use, serve as a reminder that it is agencies that are accountable for deciding what is kept or deleted from work-related correspondence,” CEI said in a news release.

 

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