The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of retailers against a South Dakota newspaper seeking records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on stores’ redemption data on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The decision is a victory for businesses seeking to block their information from being disclosed to the public after it winds up in the hands of the federal government.
The Argus Leader in South Dakota had filed a FOIA request with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking for stores’ redemption data on SNAP.
The USDA fulfilled part of the request by giving them the names and addresses of the stores, but declined to provide the SNAP data under Exemption 4 of FOIA, which blocks agencies from handing over “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.”
The newspaper sued to obtain the records and originally secured rulings in its favor. But the Supreme Court found that the data is confidential and that sharing it could harm the businesses.
“At least where commercial or financial information is both customarily and actually treated as private by its owner and provided to the government under an assurance of private, the information is ‘confidential’ within the meaning of Exemption 4,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.