News

Format: 2015-01-31
Format: 2015-01-31
January 30, 2015
Issues of compliance with the Freedom of Information Act received some attention during Loretta Lynch's eight-hour confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Lynch said she will work with Congress to improve public access to open records, and described the Freedom of Information Act as "an important tool for the American people." But Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas asked Lynch about "critical comments" made in a FOIA management evaluation of the U.S. Attorney's office of the Eastern District of New York, where Lynch was in charge.
January 29, 2015
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg has fined two whistleblowers in Atlanta for contacting members of the media during a five-year period while the suit was under seal. Whistleblowers Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly, mortgage brokers at U.S. Financial Services Inc., discussed the case confidentially with FOX investigative reporters nearly four years after they initially filed their complaint but a year before the case was unsealed. Their punishment, imposed in a January 5 order, is to pay a $1.61 million fine. The order was first reported by the Atlanta legal newspaper The Daily Report.
January 23, 2015
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with 36 news organizations, filed an amicus brief last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Cir.) arguing that mugshots taken by the U.S. Marshals Service must be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. The brief argues that not only is there no privacy right implicated by releasing photos of persons who have been arrested, indicted, and appeared in open court, but that there is a powerful interest in ensuring the criminal justice system remains open to the public.
January 14, 2015
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard arguments Tuesday in Cause of Action v. FTC, a case that challenges whether the Federal Trade Commission properly denied fee waiver requests made by the non-profit group Cause of Action. The group asserted it was entitled to a fee waiver both because its requests were in the public interest and they are a representative of the news media. Katie Townsend, Litigation Director at the Reporters Committee, argued before the court as amicus curiae in support of the Cause of Action, focusing on the changing nature of disseminating information to the public in the digital age.
January 14, 2015
Yesterday, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Justice (OIG) released its 2012 report on Activities Under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 for the first time. When the report was originally issued, it was classified and not disclosed to the public. The report, in redacted form, was released in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by The New York Times, and reveals that the FBI failed to report that it illegally collected information on individuals inside the United States.
January 13, 2015
Two new lawsuits are challenging the continued secrecy of the grand jury investigations related to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. The suits demonstrate just how secret the information gathered by a grand jury is, while also making a compelling case for the public interest in greater access.
December 16, 2014
An Illinois appellate court has reversed a trial court’s order that a reporter reveal his confidential source, shooting down the judge's conclusion that finding the identity of a leaker of a police document in a murder case justified compelled disclosure. The Reporters Committee, joined by 38 other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in the case, People of the State of Illinois v. Bethany McKee, in April 2014.
December 12, 2014
The European Union has claimed the authority to regulate search results that appear on American servers in a November proposal regarding the ‘right to be forgotten,’ a proposition that is worrisome to U.S. journalists. Under the current European privacy law, individuals can ask the European versions of search engines to remove links to information about themselves from search results. Sites like Google.uk and Google.de have been forced to comply with the requests unless the information serves a compelling public interest. Users who want to access the delisted links are switching from European sites like Google.uk or Google.de to Google.com, which is hosted on U.S. servers.
December 12, 2014
A bipartisan FOIA reform bill failed to be put to a vote in the House on Thursday after it was unanimously approved by the Senate. The inaction spelled death for the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, as House members are scheduled to leave town today and have not scheduled a vote on the measure. One of the more frustrating aspects of the incident is that the House unanimously passed an even broader FOIA reform bill in February, leaving open government advocates wondering about the reasons for the House’s inaction. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who co-sponsored the Senate bill along with John Cornyn, R-Texas, blamed House Speaker John Boehner, tweeting on Thursday night, “And Boehner kills #FOIA improvements.”
December 9, 2014
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California over their refusal to grant access to important historical documents currently being held in a library at the University of California, Berkeley. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of both the Reporters Committee and Professor Stephen Bloom, a journalist, author, and professor of journalism at the University of Iowa who has written extensively about California’s history.
December 9, 2014
After a last minute hold was released, the Senate unanimously passed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 yesterday. The Act, which strengthen the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), will now head to the House for its approval. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) lifted his hold on the bill late in the day on Monday, allowing the bill to proceed. When asked about the reasons for his delay, the Senator rather mysteriously said, “it’s sort of the internal workings of the Senate.” Lifting the hold allowed Sen. Leahy to go to the floor and secure the unanimous consent of the Senate.
December 5, 2014
A controversial prior restraint in a Connecticut familly court case has been lifted, but the judge made clear that he still believes he did the right thing in barring the Connecticut Law Tribune from reporting on a publicly available document. Superior Court Judge Stephen Frazzini vacated the order prohibiting a newspaper from reporting on a child custody case Wednesday. Frazzini did not find that the prior restraint violated the First Amendment. Instead, he recognized in his December 3 memorandum that it was pointless to maintain the order once other media outlets disclosed the same information, and that preventing the Law Tribune from disclosing already disseminated information no longer protected or endangered the children’s interests.
December 4, 2014
Update: as of the end of the day on Dec. 4, Senator Coburn has reportedly lifted his hold on the bill, although it is now being reported that Senator Rockefeller (D-WV) is holding it up. The Senate is poised to take action on the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014, which would make great improvements to the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the bill is inexplicably being held up by a single senator.
December 3, 2014
On December 15, the Ninth Circuit will rehear oral argument in a case that has odd facts and has made terrible law. In Garcia v. Google, a panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit issued a broad mandatory injunction compelling Google to remove and take measures to prevent the publication of a controversial video—all based on a novel copyright theory. The injunction was issued in February. In March, the U.S. Copyright Office rejected the plaintiff’s attempt to register her asserted copyright. Yet despite the plaintiff’s exceedingly attenuated copyright interest, the injunction continues to be in force almost a year later, restraining Google from publishing the video.
November 21, 2014
(Editor's note: The Reporters Committee's hotline, 800-336-4243, will be available during any upcoming unrest for journalists who are interfered with while covering the news.) As St. Louis anxiously awaits a grand jury decision on whether to indict the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, city, county and state officials have agreed to consent orders regarding the arrest of journalists to end litigation brought by the ACLU over earlier events in Ferguson.