News

Format: 2015-08-28
Format: 2015-08-28
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.
June 9, 2015
As states begin to implement laws requiring police officers to wear body cameras, lawmakers now struggle with the question of who should be given access to the recordings. Many states have already proposed legislation that will withhold bodycam footage from the public. As outraged civil liberties activists try to prevent this legislation from passing, many are forcing state legislatures to consider bills that allow for a greater degree of public access. In many states, citizens have the ability to request copies of footage from police worn body cameras through their state’s public record law. However, fear of privacy issues that this new technology may create is causing a rush to propose broad categorical FOIA exemptions of body camera footage, perpetuating the current barrier between many law enforcement officials and the public.
June 8, 2015
A coalition of media organizations led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press prevailed today in an effort to unseal documents related to the sentencing of retired general David H. Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In April, Petraeus pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to one misdemeanor charge related to sharing classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.
June 5, 2015
The question of whether the federal Freedom of Information Act is an effective tool was hotly debated at a two-day hearing held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this week. Requesters answered emphatically that the FOIA process is broken, but agency employees disagreed. FOIA requesters including reporters and watchdog groups testified before the committee on Tuesday, addressing the FOIA barriers they’ve encountered, including backlogs, request delays, excessive redactions, and unreasonable fees.
June 5, 2015
Regulators will keep rules requiring the public disclosure of certain information about trains transporting crude oil intact, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced last week. The Department of Transportation had previously announced on May 1 that it would phase out the temporary rules, which were enacted on May 7, 2014, a week after a major oil train derailment in Lynchburg, Va.