Format: 2015-10-07
Format: 2015-10-07
October 7, 2015
A recent ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in a death penalty records case could jeopardize many more open records requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, after the court held that a government agency can withhold an entire document if any portion is exempt and would have to be redacted. The case started with a victory in Fairfax Circuit Court for Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who had requested information from the Department of Corrections about the state's methods for executions and the facilities where they are conducted. The department appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled that state law does not require officials to redact documents. If information in a document is exempt from disclosure, the court said, the entire document can be withheld.
September 30, 2015
Although D.C. police officials said one of the aims of its police body camera program was to increase the police's accountability to the public, the public has yet to view any of the footage after repeated public records requests, experts said at a recent panel discussion. A panel of open record and privacy advocates, including two members of the Reporters Committee staff, explored the current state of police body camera programs and why the recordings have been shielded from the public at an event organized by the D.C. Open Government Coalition and hosted at the Newseum on Sept. 16.
September 30, 2015
The recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals (9th Cir.) to require copyright owners to consider "fair uses" of their work before requesting takedowns may be a double-edged sword for journalists and bloggers who work with online content.
September 22, 2015
Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, and the Sacramento City Attorney are now resisting efforts by two separate news organizations to gain access to public records, according to a recent filing in a California court. The development is the latest twist in an unusual public records dispute in which Johnson has sued his own city and the Sacramento News & Review in an effort to prevent the release of email requested by the newspaper under the California Public Records Act. Now both the mayor and the city’s attorney are trying to keep Deadspin, which also requested the email, out of the case.
August 4, 2015
The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho struck down Idaho’s “ag-gag” law, which criminalized undercover investigations in which animal cruelty was filmed and publicized. A coalition of animal right groups and activists challenged the law, and the Reporters Committee led a coalition of sixteen news organizations in filing an amicus brief in December, arguing that the law infringed on constitutionally protected newsgathering rights.
July 31, 2015
Grand jury records in the Eric Garner case should remain sealed, a New York appellate court ruled on Wednesday.
July 17, 2015
A circuit court in Missouri has ruled that the state Department of Corrections cannot withhold information about the pharmacies and laboratories that compound, test, and supply the drugs that the state uses to carry out executions. The ruling is a rare legal victory for the public’s right to know details about the sources of such drugs amid widespread concerns over the legality of how they are obtained. “The public has a compelling interest and a clear right to know how their government is carrying out executions,” said Katie Townsend, Litigation Director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This ruling vindicates that right, and is an important win for the people of Missouri and the rest of the United States.”
July 15, 2015
On July 14, the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged a federal court to allow an Ethiopian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who works with journalists to proceed with his lawsuit against the Ethiopian government for allegedly infecting his computer with spyware. The spyware relayed copies of his electronic activity – including Skype calls, Internet searches and emails – to the Ethiopian government through an intrusion and surveillance program, developed by the company Gamma Group, known as FinSpy, according to the suit.
July 9, 2015
With little public fanfare, seven federal agencies have announced a controversial trial program of publishing documents responsive to most Freedom of Information Act requests online. Under the program, known as a “Release-to-One is Release-to-All” policy, any member of the public will presumably have access to the result of almost any FOIA request. Few other details were released in a brief announcement posted on several agency websites. It remains to be seen whether there will be a delay between sending responsive documents to the requester and posting them for the general public, or whether requesters will simply be sent a link to a public website that already hosts the documents.
July 2, 2015
Police disciplinary files are exempt from the Maryland Public Information Act, the Maryland Court of Appeals said in a 5-2 ruling on Thursday. The majority noted that the law exempts personnel information from disclosure and does not make a distinction based on whether a citizen’s complaint is “sustained” or “unsustained.” It said that mandatory disclosure of the findings could have a chilling effect on the disciplinary process.
June 29, 2015
The following was prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, District of Columbia Office of Open Government/Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, D.C. Police Union, D.C. Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the D.C. Open Government Coalition. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in April, proposed outfitting every patrol officer with a body-worn camera to record interactions with the public. She announced the expansion at her State of the District address, claiming “[a]ccountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.” The goals were to improve interactions with civilians, assist investigations of officer misconduct, and promote public trust of the MPD. The cost: $5.1 million in fiscal year 2016 and a blanket exemption denying the public access to the videos.
June 18, 2015
Evidence from an ongoing Freedom of Information Act trial has shed light on how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handles FOIA requests from the public. The case, Trentadue v. FBI, was filed by Jesse Trentadue in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah after the FBI failed to turn over videotapes of the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995. In the Reporters Committee's experience, it is rare for FOIA cases to go to trial - cases are usually settled or disposed of though pre-trial motions.
June 12, 2015
The Federal Bureau of Prisons's categorical justification of redactions in a freedom of information suit filed by Prison Legal News was not appropriate, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled last week. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the case. In FOIA cases, the government has the burden of showing that an exemption is warranted. The prison bureau initially produced no records and denied PLN’s request for a fee waiver after PLN filed a FOIA request in 2003 seeking all documents related to the money the bureau paid in connection with lawsuits and claims brought against the bureau from January 1, 1996, to July 31, 2003.
June 11, 2015
Little Rock Metropolitan Housing Alliance Executive Director Rodney Forte was charged last November with violating Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Last Thursday, Forte was found guilty and convicted of a Class C misdemeanor. Judge Alice F. Lightle described Forte’s actions as a “negligent violation of the FOIA” and sentenced him to pay a $100 fine and an additional $140 in court costs.
June 11, 2015
On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously denied an effort to overturn a lower court’s ruling that cleared the way for a lawsuit to obtain records on the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. Ziva Branstetter, an Oklahoma-based reporter for The Frontier, and Tulsa World filed the lawsuit in December against Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson for withholding public records requested under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.