Court orders SBA to release more PPP and EIDL information
On November 5, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to release the names, addresses, and precise loan amounts of all Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) borrowers. According to the opinion, national-news organizations filed an action against the SBA seeking disclosure of the loan recipient information, after the rejection of their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. In July, the SBA released the business information of certain PPP loan recipients (covered by InfoBytes here). For any loan over $150,000, the SBA data release included business names, addresses, NAICS codes, zip codes, business type, demographic data, non-profit information, name of lender, jobs supported, and a loan amount range. For loans under $150,000, the SBA withheld the business names and addresses in the release. Additionally, the SBA did not release the names and addresses of sole proprietorships and independent contractors receiving EIDL loans. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment as to the propriety of SBA’s withholdings.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs, concluding that the SBA’s claimed FOIA exemptions do not cover the requested information disclosures. Specifically, the court determined that SBA’s invocation of Exemption 4 of FOIA, which “shields from disclosure ‘commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential,’” was not applicable because the SBA did not give borrowers the assurance of privacy. In fact, according to the court, the government explicitly told the borrowers that the information would be disclosed in a form disclaimer. The court further rejected the SBA’s claim of Exemption 6 of FOIA, concluding that the “weighty public interest in disclosure easily overcomes the far narrower privacy interest of borrowers who collectively received billions of taxpayer dollars in loans.” Thus, the court ordered the SBA to supplement the earlier disclosure and release the “names, addresses, and precise loan amounts of all individuals and entities that obtained PPP and EIDL COVID-related loans by November 19, 2020.”