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FOIA Request for Food Stamp Info Goes to Supreme Court after Decade-Long Battle

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Brandon Grysko, Esq.

"Sunshine Laws", like the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), promote transparency in government's operations. But unlike the name implies, information isn't always freely given. South Dakota's Argus Leader newspaper is finding this out the hard way but isn't going down without a fight.

It all started in the summer of 2010, when reporters requested data from the federal government pertinent to the federal food assistance program. Reporters sent off Freedom of Information Act requests to follow the trail of food-stamp money from the government to the individual recipient stores. The reporters hoped to use the data to identify possible fraud in the program. However, the government withheld key information, like the amount of money each store received from the program. 

In denying the FOIA requests, the government relied on a FOIA provisions that allows the government to withhold "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential." 5 USC ยง552(b)(4).

This controversy has pitted large newspaper organizations up against food-and-grocery associations. Nearly a decade later, after a long series of court battles, the United States Supreme Court has finally heard the case. It could still be months before they release a decision in the matter. However, the court's interpretation of the FOIA will have far-reaching implications, as many states follow federal-court precedent in interpreting their own Freedom of Information Acts.X:\Elizabeth\ 

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