Briefs & Comments

  • February 24, 2016

    Wikimedia, The Nation Magazine, and PEN American Center have joined with a group of other plaintiffs to challenge the constitutionality of "upstream" surveillance pursuant to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment as well as the Fourth Amendment. Under this program, the government compels backbone service providers—companies that control the telecommunications equipment through which ISPs route their traffic—to provide communications sent through their equipment to the government. The District Court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the surveillance at issue because their claims were too speculative. We argued that, because communications surveillance under Section 702 impedes confidential reporter-source relationships and newsgathering, plaintiffs have alleged a sufficient harm to establish standing to sue.

  • February 11, 2016

    Education associations brought an action in federal court in D.C. for injunctive relief against Public.Resource.Org ("Public Resource") for copyright infringement after Public Resource posted a copy of the 1999 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (“1999 Standards”) on its website. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in Public Resource\'s favor on February 11, 2016. In the brief, the Reporters Committee argued that copyright law should not be used to restrict access to "the law." Doing so hinders journalists' ability to inform the public about important laws that affect many aspects of American life. Additionally, the Reporters Committee argued that the public and news media have a First Amendment right to communicate the contents of the 1999 Standards -- a right that copyright law cannot be used to overcome because the standards constitute an "idea," a category of information copyright law does not protect.

  • February 8, 2016

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court regarding access to police body-worn camera ("BWC" or "bodycam") videos under Ohio's Public Records Act. The video in question shows the shooting of Samuel DuBose by a University of Cincinnati police officer. RCFP's amicus brief argues that bodycam videos are not confidential law enforcement records under Ohio Public Records Act and accordingly must be released upon request. It also demonstrates the great public interest in having an accurate account of the interactions between law enforcement officers and members of the public, especially in use of force incidents.

  • February 4, 2016

    The Missouri Supreme Court is considering whether the Humane Society’s statements identifying a dog kennel as a “puppy mill” and one of the “worst puppy mills in Missouri” are protected under the First Amendment as non-actionable statements of opinion. The Humane Society made the statements during a political campaign urging Missouri voters to approve a statewide public referendum on the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act.” The trial court dismissed plaintiff’s defamation and false light claims, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. The Reporters Committee, with a coalition of 22 media organizations, filed an amicus brief with the Missouri Supreme Court. Amici urge the Court to find the statements are constitutionally protected opinion and affirm the trial court’s dismissal because the Humane Society’s statements are based on disclosed, truthful facts and are core political speech.

  • January 28, 2016

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 24 news organizations urged Florida lawmakers to reject two bills that propose the elimination of mandatory fee-shifting for public records requestors who are successful in cases where records are "unlawfully" withheld.

  • January 22, 2016

    Graham was convicted of robbery. In the course of the prosecution, the government requested a court order under the Stored Communications Act compelling Sprint, Graham's phone provider, to disclose 221 days of historical cell site location information (CSLI). Graham moved to suppress the CSLI, arguing that the warrantless acquisition of location information is an unconstitutional search. A Fourth Circuit panel held the order violated the Fourth Amendment. The case is now being reheard en banc. We argued that the Fourth Circuit "should consider the First Amendment interests that warrantless acquisition of communications information implicates when it resolves the Fourth Amendment questions presented by Graham’s appeal." The Fourth Amendment is rooted in the Framers' concerns about safeguarding printers and the press. As a result, Fourth Amendment protections must be applied with rigor when First Amendment rights are at stake.

  • January 16, 2016

    A Delaware bankruptcy judge demanded that more than 100 individuals involved in the bankruptcy proceedings concerning Molycorp Inc. disclose all their contacts with any Bloomberg reporters in the last 60 days, after he saw several articles that he felt contained information subject to a confidentiality order. The Reporters Committee argued in a letter to the judge on behalf of a media coalition that the order is overly broad and interferes with reporters’ First Amendment freedoms.

  • January 11, 2016

    ASTM and other standard development organizations sued Public.Resource.org for copyright infringement after the web site posted standards that had been incorporated into state and federal laws, but were copyrighted and developed by the plaintiffs. In an amicus brief in support of dismissal of the claim before the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Reporters Committee argued that the practice of charging citizens to view standards incorporated by reference raised First Amendment concerns, and that the First Amendment’s structural role in promoting informed debate and the news media’s ability to check governmental power is limited when access to such information is restricted.

  • December 21, 2015

    Marcy Winograd appealed a California Superior Court’s denial of her anti-SLAPP motion after being sued for allegedly defaming a local petting zoo by writing online articles and publicly protesting what she believed were inhumane conditions at the zoo. The Superior Court found evidence establishing actual malice based on the fact animal control officers found no violations after investigating the zoo and Winograd continued objecting to the zoo conditions, relying on her own personal observations and information from two trusted sources. In an amicus brief, the Reporters Committee and five other media organizations urge the California Court of Appeal to reverse the Superior Court’s unprecedented interpretation of the actual malice standard.

  • December 17, 2015

    Defense Distributed and the Second Amendment Foundation are suing the Department of State regarding the unconstitutionality of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The Reporters Committee argued in an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals (5th Cir.) that the regulations are impermissibly content-based, overbroad, and vague, and appear to criminalize routine reporting regarding defense technologies. The State Department's unfettered discretion to prosecute, coupled with the absence of judicial review, make it impossible to predict whether a reporter could be liable for violations of the regulations, which creates a deterrent effect and chills reporting, the brief argued.

  • November 18, 2015

    James Stackhouse, a criminal defendant appealing his conviction, is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of “[w]hether a criminal defendant’s inadvertent failure to object to a courtroom closure is an ‘intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right’ that affirmatively waives his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, or is instead a forfeiture, which does not wholly foreclose appellate review.” In an amicus brief in support of the importance of open court proceedings, the Reporters Committee argued that the nearly identical First and Sixth Amendment rights of access to judicial proceedings require trial courts to independently examine whether closure is warranted, regardless of whether the defendant objects.

  • November 12, 2015

    Naji Hamdan, a United States citizen currently living in Lebanon, filed FOIA requests with several government agencies seeking information about their role in his detention and torture in the United Arab Emirates. The District Court dismissed the case, and a panel of the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal. The Reporters Committee submitted a brief in support of Hamdan's petition for en banc rehearing, arguing that the District Court and the panel erroneously applied a highly deferential standard of review to the government's claims that the records requested were exempt from disclosure because they were national security secrets. The amicus brief argued that the plain language of FOIA and the legislative history of the statute require more searching review. Applying the correct standard of review is crucial to ensuring that government claims of national security secrecy do not go unchecked and unscrutinized by the courts.

  • November 10, 2015

    Photographer Paul Raef was charged under California Vehicle Code 40008 for violating general driving laws while having the "intent to capture any type of visual image . . . for a commercial purpose.” When Raef challenged the constitutionality of the law, the California Superior Court found the statute unconstitutional because it targeted First Amendment activity and was overinclusive. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Press Photographers Association, and six other amici filed a friend-of-the-court letter with the California Supreme Court, asking the Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision. The Reporters Committee argued that Section 40008 is not a law of general applicability and it has more than an incidental effect on speech. Furthermore, amici believe the Court of Appeal erred in giving undue deference to police and prosecutors in enforcing this vague law that can harm traditional journalists.

  • October 21, 2015

    The Reporters Committee submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public hearing on three bills related to the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The testimony argues that no modifications should be made to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act regarding BWC videos, and includes additional information regarding the failure of the Mayor's Office to incorporate the recommendations of the BWC Advisory Group.

  • October 20, 2015

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette challenged a policy that gave Pennsylvania executive branch employees the sole discretion to determine whether or not to preserve their emails, and to permanently delete them after five days. The Reporters Committee, joined by a media coalition, argues that the records policy in question is incompatible with the PA Right to Know Law. It allows an agency to destroy public records before being required to respond to a public records request. It also inhibits administrative and judicial review of an individual employee's decision to delete their email. Finally, the brief provided examples of instances where access to emails has resulted in important stories to the citizens of Pennsylvania.