|Case Title||MOAYEDI v. U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION|
|District||District of Columbia|
|Judge||Judge Reggie B. Walton|
|Defendant||U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION|
FOIA Project Annotation: Judge Reggie Walton has ruled that Customs and Border Protection properly invoked Exemption 2 (internal practices and procedures) to withhold information concerning the frequent detention and interrogation of Sina Moayedi, an Iranian-born naturalized U.S. citizen whose construction company, ironically, worked on a number of federal government projects abroad, including naval air stations and U.S. embassies. After Moayedi was once again detained and questioned at the Miami Airport when he returned from a business trip to Jamaica, he filed an FOIA request to determine why he continued to be detained. The agency searched its Treasury Enforcement Communications System database and found 24 responsive records, each of which contained information the agency redacted under Exemption 2 and Exemption 7 (law enforcement records). Dissatisfied with the agency's response, Moayedi sued, challenging the adequacy of the agency's search and its Exemption 2 claims. Moayedi argued the agency searched only its TECS system and failed to search any regional offices. Noting that the agency indicated that the TECS is the "only CBP database that would reasonably contain the information requested in this FOIA request," Walton observed that "the plaintiff has not established, but merely speculates, that additional records exist. Although the 'CBP's search did not locate, or disclose, a single record instructing [the] CBP to enter the notation "TECS LOOKOUT" nor did the search locate a single record discussing the reasons for placing a lookout on [the plaintiff,]' it is not necessary that the search be perfect, but only reasonable." Walton pointed out that the agency's regulations required a requester to request records directly from field offices and that headquarters had no legal obligation to search offices not mentioned in the request. He indicated that "moreover, the TECS database produced records from each airport where the plaintiff was interrogated, so there is no reason to believe that the CBP might find responsive documents elsewhere." Moayedi argued the agency's index did not explain the differences in low-2 and high-2 redactions. But Walton explained that "it is not necessary that an agency attach specific labels to designate whether a withholding falls under the 'Low 2' or 'High 2" category in order to comply with Vaughn." Walton agreed that the agency had properly applied low-2, noting that "the reaction made by the CBP on the basis that the information qualifies as 'Low 2' material was proper, because Exemption 2 is 'automatic' when the information involves purely internal markings of no genuine public interest." As to the circumvention of regulation or law prong of the exemption, he indicated that "it is legally irrelevant whether or not the plaintiff himself intends to circumvent agency regulations or to make the information more readily available to others who intend to do so." He added that "this material is properly withheld in light of its relationship to airport and border security, which is of utmost importance in today's environment. Therefore, the Court concludes that the material withheld regarding the possible reasons why individuals are detained and questioned is predominantly internal and because its disclosure may enable potential suspects to 'change [their] pattern of [illegal activities] in order to avoid detection and apprehension],' it properly qualifies as 'High 2' material exempt from disclosure under the FOIA."
Issues: Exemption 2 - Risk of circumvention
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