The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board sought comments on what issues it should examine as a long-term agenda. The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 24 media organizations in urging the board to investigate the extent to which journalists are being included within the scope of any national security surveillance programs.
The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has requested public comment on a proposal that could make aggregated food stamp redemption data public record under FOIA. The questions FNS posed have to do with whether such data at the individual store level should be considered exempt under (b)(4) as a confidential business record. The Reporters Committee urged FNS to recognize that this information is public and not exempt under any FOIA exemption.
The case interprets 18 U.S.C. 875(c), which prohibits interstate transmission of a threatening communication. Mr. Elonis posted on his Facebook page several raps about his ex-wife and the judge presiding over their child custody battle. The appeal turns on whether "true threats" -- which are not protected speech -- should be evaluated based on the speaker's subjective intent to threaten, or based on whether an objective/reasonable listener would take the statements as threats. We argue that a subjective intent test is necessary to protect members of the media and provide the broadest leeway for protected commentary, satire and reporting. We do not argue that Mr. Elonis should escape liability for his statements, but rather that the test the lower court applied was erroneous.
The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 48 media organizations in protesting the treatment of journalists and withholding of important information in the aftermath of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Louisiana Press Association, and Gannett Co., Inc. and its six Louisiana outlets filed a public comment in opposition to proposed changes to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Louisiana Local Rule 47.5 (Interviewing Jurors). The proposed rule would ban jurors from ever discussing a wide range of topics about deliberations and why they voted as they did. The Reporters Committee argues that the proposed rule change is inconsistent with the First Amendment rights of not only the jurors, but also of the news media that covers the courts and the public that needs to know how justice is administered.
The Reporters Committee and 26 others filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals. Michael Mann, a climate scientist, has sued various publications, claiming he was defamed by a statement saying he was "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data." The National Review and CEI filed anti-SLAPP motions, which were denied. The amicus brief argues that denials of a special motion to dismiss under the D.C. anti-SLAPP statute must be immediately appealable, and that the statements at issue are constitutionally protected opinion and fair comment, particularly given the context in which they appeared.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the NSA and government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers. EFF argues that the government's dragnet surveillance of AT&T customers' communications is unconstitutional. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and 18 other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in support of EFF's motion for partial summary judgment. The media coalition argues that widespread surveillance has a corrosive effect on journalists' ability to report on matters of public interest. Journalists rely on confidentiality when developing stories about sensitive topics, but reporters and editors at major news outlets have said that NSA surveillance programs have made sources less willing to talk with them.
Hadeed Carpet Cleaning sued seven Yelp reviewers for libel, saying it suspects they were not customers but competitors intentionally lying about the companey. Hadeed subpoenaed Yelp for the reviewers' identities, and Yelp argued that the reviewers' speech was protected by the First Amendment and their identities should not be revealed. The Reporters Committee and 16 others filed an amicus brief in the Virginia Supreme Court, arguing that anonymous speech on matters of public concern, especially anonymous commentary on news websites, is vital to public participation and must be protected. The brief further argues that the Virginia unmasking statute must be interpreted robustly, so that a plaintiff is required to provide sufficient evidence to support its claim before it may unmask an anonymous speaker.
A FOIA request concerning a criminal investigation of a priest over a sexual abuse allegation was denied by prosecutors who said they would not disclose whether an investigation was going on. We filed an amicus brief joined by 25 other news organizations. We argued that a "neither confirm nor deny" response is not appropriate for state government records requests, as it was developed at the federal level to protect national security interests and has since morphed into a broad and damaging secrecy tool.
The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed a civil rights case, finding that the Muslim plaintiffs who alleged that the NYPD's surveillance of them violated their civil rights did not have standing to sue. The court found that the harm caused by the surveillance program was attributable to the news reporting of the Associated Press in breaking news of the surveillance. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and North Jersey Media Group Inc. argued in this brief that the court's decision to blame the media instead of the government entity that ran the surveillance program misapplies the law of Article III standing. It also threatens the protections that the Supreme Court has given to the free press, and ignores that the AP's reporting fits into the American tradition of watchdog journalism that has led to important debate and reform.
The Jewish Daily Forward sought records from the New York City health department regarding mohels who have given babies herpes during, as the paper reported, "the performance of metzitzah b’peh, a controversial circumcision rite used by some ultra-Orthodox men, in which the mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound with direct oral to genital contact." Some of the rabbis involved in this practice are refusing to give parents a consent form required by law. The case centers on the privacy rights of the mohels versus the right to know about public health issues. In the case, which is on appeal to the NY Supreme Court Appellate Division, the Reporters Committee argued that the mohel had a reduced privacy interest in his identity given his professional status and that the public interest outweighed any privacy interest he had due to the grave health risks associated with the procedure.
The Cherokee Nation Council was considering several changes to the tribe's freedom of information law, including extending the time tribal agencies would have to respond to a request and consolidating all FOI processing in the attorney general's office. The Reporters Committee urged tribal leaders to minimize the changes to response times and, if a consolidation of processing were necessary, to put that authority in an independent office instead of a political one.
The Reporters Committee wrote a letter on behalf of itself and 14 other news organizations, weighing in on the issue of whether SCOTUSblog should be allowed to hold press credentials. The Standing Committee of Correspondents, made up of five journalists, requires that qualifying news organizations "be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government, or that is not principally a general news organization." The committee had questions about the relationship between the news site and both the founder's law firm and its sole sponsor, Bloomberg Law. We urged the committee to recognize that funding and management relations can be complex with new forms of media and to allow for flexibility when a site has demonstrated that it is indeed covering the news.
The Reporters Committee, the ACLU of Missouri, and Christopher McDaniel, a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio, filed a lawsuit under Missouri's freedom of information law challenging the state's denials of requests for information related to lethal injection drugs. The Reporters Committee, the ACLU and McDaniel had all requested details about where the state was getting drugs to be used in executions, as well as information about where the drugs were tested. The state withheld the information about laboratories and pharmacies under an exemption to its public records statute that allows withholding the identities of "members of the execution team." The Reporters Committee, the ACLU and McDaniel argue that neither the pharmacies producing the drugs, nor the laboratories testing them, are properly considered "members of the execution team."
This is an effort in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to unseal documents in a 15-year-old case, USA v. John Doe. In the underlying case, Felix Sater was accused of large-scale financial crimes, and pleaded guilty to lesser charges after agreeing to cooperate with government officials. Appellants argue that the secrecy the government afforded to Sater – his case was not on the public docket for over a decade – allowed him to defraud other investors. The Reporters Committee wrote a letter to the Second Circuit on behalf of the unsealing efforts. We argued that it is especially important that the Court follow the constitutional and common-law rights of access in this case because the press has a duty to monitor whether the government is giving informants special protections.