News

Format: 2016-09-30
Format: 2016-09-30
August 31, 2016
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is publishing the results of its survey of journalists on the "release to one, release to all" policy under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). More than 100 self-identified journalists responded to the survey. Respondents to the survey were generally in favor of a “release to one, release to all” policy if it is implemented with a delay between release to the requester and release to the public. While a quarter of respondents supported the policy unconditionally, almost 60% support it only with conditions, such as a delay period.
July 28, 2016
The Pentagon has updated its Law of War manual to clarify that journalists are generally protected as civilians under international law. The changes, announced last week, came after media groups expressed concern that some language in the original version could put reporters at risk of being considered spies or combatants. The manual, first released in 2015, is the Department of Defense’s guide to international law as it applies to the U.S. military. The original manual drew criticism for saying that although journalists are usually civilians, they can sometimes be “unprivileged belligerents” — a category that includes guerrillas and spies.
July 25, 2016
The Chief FOIA Officers Council, charged with addressing the most important difficulties in administering FOIA across government, met for the first time July 22 to begin the process of implementing a “release to one is a release to all” standard for federal records. The policy would make agencies release FOIA-processed records to one requester and simultaneously to the general public by posting them online. Concerns about the policy from both journalists and FOIA officers were addressed at the meeting. Many reporters worry that releasing requested documents to the public would compromise their reporting by allowing others to steal their “scoop.” Agency FOIA officers were troubled by the burden of ensuring records are accessible to all and in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
July 15, 2016
Federal authorities can withhold mug shots from release due to privacy concerns, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Thursday. The court, sitting en banc, overturned its 1996 decision, which held that there was no privacy interest to justify exempting federal mug shots from the Freedom of Information Act. The new ruling will not necessarily keep all mug shots from being released, but it will require a case-by-case consideration of whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs privacy interests. “A disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual,” Judge Deborah Cook wrote for the majority in the 9-7 decision. The majority argued that the digital age has made privacy concerns even more pressing.
July 13, 2016
A week after the Freedom of Information Act’s 50th anniversary, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing that addressed next steps for improving and enforcing the law. The July 12 hearing also celebrated the passage of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which President Barack Obama signed into law on June 30. The four witnesses at the hearing praised the law’s accomplishments, which include creating a “presumption of openness” toward disclosing records, as well as requiring the government to create a single online portal for FOIA requests. The law also ensures greater independence for the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the FOIA ombudsman.
July 7, 2016
Following almost two weeks of pressure from free speech groups and press coverage, a Georgia district attorney moved to drop felony charges against a newspaper publisher and his attorney earlier today.
July 6, 2016
Agency records can be subject to the Freedom of Information Act even if they are kept in an employee’s nongovernmental email account, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Office of Science and Technology Policy reversed a decision by a district court, which dismissed the case last year. The D.C. Circuit’s decision could set an important precedent for journalists and other FOIA requesters by clarifying that agency records are subject to FOIA regardless of their location.
June 30, 2016
President Barack Obama today signed a bill that significantly reforms and improves access to public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The signing marked the culmination of open government advocates' battle to reform part of FOIA ahead of the law's 50th anniversary on July 4th. One of the most notable provisions is the law's mandate for agencies to operate from a presumption of openness, ensuring that information is withheld only under one of FOIA's nine exemptions. The bill codifies Obama's 2009 memorandum sent on his first day in office — which ordered federal departments to operate under this presumption.
June 29, 2016
The past month has seen a flurry of legislative activity by states seeking to regulate access to video from police body cameras. New Hampshire, Minnesota and Louisiana recently passed laws exempting some video from disclosure, while several other states are considering bills that place privacy restrictions on access. Bodycams have become increasingly popular as tools to ensure police transparency, but releasing the footage has prompted privacy concerns. Most state open records laws would consider body camera videos to be public records, but also include some exemptions from release for records that would violate a subject's privacy.
June 23, 2016
On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) bill, which would combat lawsuits filed to intimidate exercise of free speech. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 2304, the SPEAK FREE Act, last summer and the bill was referred to the subcommittee on June 1, 2015. Similar to anti-SLAPP laws passed at the state level, the proposed legislation would amend the federal judicial code to allow defendants speaking out about official proceedings or matters of public concern a special motion to dismiss the case early in litigation as well as a stay on discovery in order to combat SLAPPs.
June 15, 2016
Earlier this month a New York appellate court affirmed the New York City Police Department's decision to "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of records on the surveillance of two Muslim men. The NYPD's response, also known as a Glomar response and traditionally used by federal agencies, marks the first time a state appellate court has upheld its use by a local government entity, setting a troubling legal precedent and a hurdle for open government advocates.
May 19, 2016
At the Reporters Committee gala in New York this week, honorees Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the Knight Foundation, and Eve Burton, General Counsel of Hearst, were in perfect sync as they spoke about the convergence between the news media and technology companies. With many key legal questions unresolved as journalism continues its historic transformation to the digital world, the future of the First Amendment depends upon these two industries aligning their interests to confront the next generation of free press/free speech challenges.
April 28, 2016
The FBI failed to follow its own rules when agents impersonated an Associated Press reporter in order to locate a criminal suspect in 2007, according to documents newly released in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The Associated Press. The documents further show that after the impersonation became public, an FBI analysis determined that the non-compliance was reasonable, raising questions about the efficacy of the guidelines altogether. The Reporters Committee and AP sued the FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice last August for records related to the FBI’s practice of impersonating the news media.
April 25, 2016
In a New York Times op-ed, Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Daphne Keller, director of intermediary liability at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and a former associate general counsel for Google, caution against creating online barriers to information under European privacy laws. They write, in part:
December 18, 2015
What constitutes a waiver of the reporter’s privilege is largely unchartered territory for courts, leaving journalists with little case law to rely on when determining whether to respond to subpoenas. This week a California federal court shed light on the scope of waiver by recognizing a journalist’s right to refuse to produce unpublished notes even after disclosing some components of her reporting. The court also held the defendant did not overcome the qualified reporter’s privilege because it did not exhaust alternative means for obtaining the requested information. The shield law issue emerged out of a class action lawsuit filed in 2014 by the estates of 78 miners who died in a 1968 explosion at the No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Consolidation Coal Company, owners of the mine, for fraud, concealment, and nondisclosure.