Survey of Release of Mailing Lists by Federal Government Agencies

LCD-77-112: Published: Aug 25, 1977. Publicly Released: Aug 25, 1977.

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A review of the policies and practices of 11 Federal departments, agencies, or commissions on releasing mailing lists outside the Government showed that the agencies were generally aware of the personal privacy issue as it related to the release of mailing lists and that they have addressed it in their policies.

Many inconsistencies exist in the present policies on mailing lists. Court decisions do not provide any definitive guidelines to agencies, and the distinctions made in the law are not sufficiently clear to allow satisfactory answers to all questions that arise. Generally, lists of business names and addresses are releasable under the Freedom of Information Act. The rules governing the release of individual names and addresses are not as clear. In addition, the Privacy Act serves to limit the release of individual nonbusiness names and addresses. Mailing lists containing addresses of both businesses and individuals present difficult definitional problems. If the activity giving rise to the mailing list is substantially personal and not directly business oriented, then release of the list, even though it contains addresses of both businesses and individuals, may be questionable. Because considerable discretion must be exercised in these matters, an agency's decision on releasing such a mixed list should be accepted if no proof exists showing arbitrary disregard of the evidence by the agency.

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