News

Format: 2016-07-23
Format: 2016-07-23
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.
December 3, 2015
Determining whether a statement is a fact or opinion can make or break a defamation claim. Recently, two courts — the high court in Massachusetts and a federal district court in Virginia — dismissed defamation suits after ruling the statements were opinions based on facts disclosed by the journalist, reminding reporters to support their opinions with facts to limit liability. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held articles published by the Boston Herald regarding the suicide of Brad Delp, the lead singer of the rock band Boston, were protected as opinion, ending a five-year court battle.
November 20, 2015
Photographic evidence recently helped a New York trial judge find a New York City police officer guilty of fabricating a record to justify his arrest of a freelance photographer back in 2012. Officer Michael Ackermann arrested New York Times freelancer Robert Stolarik as he was taking pictures of a street fight in the Bronx. Ackermann testified in court documents that officers had been giving out a number of disperse orders when Stolarik blinded Ackermann and interfered with arrests of others on the street by flashing his camera light at the officer’s face.
October 30, 2015
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an act extending libel retraction and damages provisions to print and online publications. Assembly Bill 998 replaces the term “newspaper” with “daily or weekly news publication.” This alteration extends libel protections to online daily or weekly publications which were not protected under the original legislation. Section 1 of AB 998 states “it is the intent of the Legislature to ensure that weekly and online publications are afforded the same protection under Section 48a of the Civil Code as is afforded to a daily newspaper to the extent that the weekly and online publications perform the same news-disseminating function as a daily newspaper.”