The unauthorized disclosure of federal government information to a newspaper reporter does not automatically make the same material available to other members of the public, a U.S. judge ruled here yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell made his ruling in a case involving the Safeway Stores and the Federal Trade Commission.
The suit apparently stems from a Washington Post story nearly two years ago concerning an FTC investigation of grocery store concentration in the Washington area. In that story, reporter Stephen J. Lynton referred to a 170-page FTC staff report that was sent to the commission and rejected.
Safeway asked the FTC to release the report to the store chain under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming it was in the public domain since it had been compromised.
FTC attorneys refused, saying the report was an intra-agency document that still is exempt from the FOLA.
In rejecting the Safeway request yesterday, Gesell said the "publication by The Washington Post was unauthorized by the commission and any staff disclosure, if it occurred, was prohibited . . ."
He said also that there was "considerable doubt." The post ever had full access to the report, and that "in any event an unauthorized 'leak' does not constitute a waiver" of the Act's exemptions.