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FIA-13-0006 - In the Matter of Wall Street Journal

On May 24, 2013, the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) issued a decision denying an appeal (Appeal) from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) determination issued by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Information Resources (OIR). The Wall Street Journal, the Appellant, sought categories of records concerning IP addresses of computers that have accessed web pages administered by the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) or on which data on energy resources are first made public by the EIA. In its partial response to the Appellant’s request, the OIR withheld all IP addresses pursuant to Exemption 6. OIR stated that some of the withheld IP addresses would likely reveal the names of individual visiting the EIA sites and thus these IP addresses were protected under Exemption 6. Further, because it would require an immense effort to separate the exempt IP addresses from the non-exempt IP addresses, OIR found that the exempt and non-exempt IP addresses were inextricably intertwined and could not be reasonable segregated. Thus, OIR withheld all of the IP addresses. OHA found that, given the vast number of IP addresses encompassed in the request, there were IP addresses that would reveal the names of specific individuals accessing the site. OHA further found that these individuals had a protectable privacy interest regarding the potential release of their names. Balancing this privacy interest against the very small public interest that would be furthered by release of the names, OHA found that the release of these IP addresses (revealing the names of private individuals) would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and thus were protected pursuant to Exemption 6. Further, OHA found that OIR was correct that, given the immense burden - $235,000, 3,000 worker hours, and the need to develop new software - to separate the exempt IP addresses from the non-exempt IP addresses, the non-exempt IP addresses were inextricably intertwined with the non-exempt IP addresses and that OIR was justified in withholding all of the IP addresses. Given its findings, OHA denied the Appellant’s Appeal.