Exs. A, E. Under these circumstances, the author's cooperation with the Government could have reasonably been expected to antagonize the plaintiff. See Nahlik Decl. P 10(d). Moreover, given the likely close relationship between the author and the plaintiff, it is entirely reasonable to infer that the source knew that the plaintiff might retaliate for the author's implicating her in such an investigation. Indeed, the plaintiff has admitted that the underlying reason that she seeks disclosure of the letter is to identify and then sue the author. See Complaint, Ex. A. It is, therefore, reasonable to infer that the anonymous source knew that Ortiz would wish to retaliate and therefore "would hardly have made the charges unless [he or she] was confident [his or her] identity would remain concealed." Pope v. United States, 599 F.2d 1383, 1386 (5th Cir. 1979); see also Nix v. United States, 572 F.2d 998, 1003 (4th Cir. 1978); Maroscia v. Levi, 569 F.2d 1000, 1002 (7th Cir. 1977).
The fact that the letter was unsolicited does not negate this implied assurance of confidentiality where, as here, "the agency has somehow put the public on notice that it will accord such treatment to these communications." Brant Constr. Co. v. EPA, 778 F.2d 1258 (7th Cir. 1985) (finding unsolicited letters received by EPA containing allegations of improper conduct exempt from disclosure); see also Pope, supra, 599 F.2d at 1387 (unsolicited letters received by IRS which initiated investigation exempt); Fedders Corp. v. Federal Trade Comm., 494 F. Supp. 325, 328 (S.D.N.Y. 1980) (unsolicited complaint letters to FTC exempt), aff'd without opinion, 646 F.2d 560 (2d Cir. 1980). Here, the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services, maintains a hotline operation to receive telephone calls and other communications from the public concerning possible instances of fraud or other illegal activity. HHS "encourages the public to report fraud in connection with HHS programs to this hotline operation." Nahlik Decl. P 7. Moreover, "it is unrealistic to assume that a majority of persons reporting to an agency what they believe to be illegal or improper acts are legally sophisticated [with regard to] the boundaries of the FOIA exemptions." See Brant, supra, 778 F.2d at 1263. The Court finds that these circumstances, viewed together, provide a sufficient basis for inferring that HHS has put the public on notice that it will protect the confidentiality of reports to its hotline operation.
Moreover, despite the fact that the author's name is not on the letter, there are numerous aspects of the letter itself that could lead to discovery of the author's identity. Among these are the typestyle and certain items of information that are mentioned in the letter that would reasonably be known only by a few persons. In addition, the grammar, syntax, and language usage in the letter could identify the author by his or her writing style or could indicate the author's educational level or national origin. See New York Times Co. v. NASA, 287 U.S. App. D.C. 208, 920 F.2d 1002, 1009 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (recognizing that "'syntactic felicity' or lack thereof would reveal 'information about the depth and breadth of [the author's] education'"). Having reviewed the letter in camera, the Court finds that disclosure of the letter would be highly likely to identify the author and that, therefore, the lack of a signature on the letter does not afford a sufficient basis to protect the identity of the informant in this case.
Accordingly, the Court finds that since an implied assurance of confidentiality can reasonably be inferred and since disclosure of the letter, even in part, is likely to reveal the identity of its author despite the lack of a signature, this letter fits within the confines of FOIA exemption 7(D) and therefore may be withheld from disclosure.
The Government relies also upon Exemption 7(C) to justify withholding the letter. Exemption 7(C) authorizes an agency to withhold records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes to the extent that revealing the information "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C.A § 552(b)(7)(C) (West Supp. 1994). Since Exemption 7(C) allows withholding only if an invasion of personal privacy is unwarranted, a court considering the applicability of the Exemption must balance the individual's privacy interest against the public interest in disclosure. United States Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, supra, 489 U.S. 749 (1989).
The privacy interest that Exemption 7(C) protects from disclosure encompasses not only the intimate details of an individual's life but also information that he or she could reasonably assert an option to withhold from the public at large because of its possible adverse effect. See United States Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm., supra, 489 U.S. at 763 (1989) ("privacy encompass[es] the individual's control of information concerning his or her person."). Therefore, courts have recognized that a source in a government investigation, such as the one conducted on Ortiz, has a substantial privacy interest in keeping his or her participation in the investigation private. Dunkelberger v. Department of Justice, 285 U.S. App. D.C. 85, 906 F.2d 779, 781 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("Exemption 7(C) takes particular note of the 'strong interest' of individuals, whether they be suspects, witnesses, or investigators, 'in not being associated unwarrantedly with alleged criminal activity.'") Moreover, the source also has a strong privacy interest in not being unnecessarily questioned or harassed by those who look unfavorably upon law enforcement officials or by private litigants in civil suits incidentally related to the investigation. See Diamond v. FBI, 707 F.2d 75, 77 (2d Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1004, 79 L. Ed. 2d 228, 104 S. Ct. 995 (1984). This is especially true where, as here, in her request for disclosure, Ortiz has indicated a desire to sue the source upon discovery of his or her identity. See Complaint, Ex. A. In light of the potential for harassment, intrusion, and stigmatization resulting from disclosure of the source's connection with HHS's criminal investigation, the Court concludes that the author of this letter, which provoked a criminal investigation, has "a substantial interest in seeing that [his or her] participation remains secret." See Fitzgibbon v. CIA, 286 U.S. App. D.C. 13, 911 F.2d 755, 767 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).
On the other side of the scale is the public interest in disclosure of the letter. Only the interest of the general public, and not that of the private litigant, is relevant to this inquiry. See Kiraly v. FBI, 728 F.2d 273, 276 (6th Cir. 1984). Thus, the fact that Ortiz has a personal reason for seeking the information does not enter into the balancing process. See United States Dep't of Defense v. FLRA, 127 L. Ed. 2d 325, 114 S. Ct. 1006, 1008 (1993) ("whether an invasion of privacy is warranted cannot turn on the purposes for which the . . . request is made"); see also Massey, supra, 3 F.3d at 625 (2d Cir. 1993) (quoting Stone, 727 F. Supp. 662, 667 (1990) ("'FOIA was not designed to benefit private litigants.'")). Rather, the relevant public purpose must be coextensive with FOIA's basic purpose--"to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny." See Reporters Comm., 489 U.S. at 772-73. Therefore, disclosure of the letter is in the public interest only if it furthers the public's statutorily created "right to be informed about 'what their government is up to.'" See id. at 773.
The disclosure that Ortiz seeks will not significantly serve this public purpose. Although in this case disclosure of the letter will reveal a great deal about the source, it will reveal virtually nothing about the conduct of the government. Enabling the public to learn about the conduct of a private citizen is not the type of public interest FOIA was intended to serve. See id. Moreover, Ortiz has made no showing, and has not even alleged, that HHS failed to adequately perform its investigative function. See Massey, supra, 3 F.3d at 625 (2d Cir. 1993).
"Unless there is compelling evidence that the agency denying the FOIA request is engaged in illegal activity, and access to the names of private individuals appearing in the agency's law enforcement files is necessary in order to confirm or refute that evidence, there is no reason to believe that the incremental public interest in such information would ever be significant."