Riley v. Calif.; U.S. v. Wurie

March 10, 2014

The Reporters Committee joined an amicus brief in two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court examining the issue of warrantless searches of the cell phones of arrested suspects. In this brief, written by attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine, we argued that Fourth Amendment law must acknowledge the role that smart phones play in modern society and particularly with journalists, and the information is clearly of a personal nature sufficient to demand that officers obtain a search warrant before examining the records on such phones.

Journalism group criticizes EPA's lack of openness

Emily Grannis | Freedom of Information | News | March 19, 2014
March 19, 2014

The Society of Environmental Journalists has released a statement criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to respond to public records requests, including still-lingering questions about a Jan. 9 chemical spill.

"As we celebrate 'Sunshine Week,' it’s worth noting that nowadays EPA in many cases simply fails to answer questions posed by journalists on behalf of the public – even some that are routine and non-controversial," wrote Beth Parke and Joseph Davis. Parke is SEJ's executive director and Davis is the director of SEJ's Watchdog Project.

"When the agency does respond, a favorite tactic is to wait until just before or even after a reporter’s deadline and then mail a short written statement that does not answer the questions," they wrote.

Ohio Attorney General argues against state election-related speech law in U.S. Supreme Court

Cindy Gierhart | Libel | News | March 5, 2014
March 5, 2014

The Ohio Attorney General argued against its own election-related speech law in a brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

In Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether two organizations can challenge an Ohio law that makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements about a candidate for office or ballot proposition.

Rather than defend the law, the Ohio Attorney General admitted it “raise[s] a number of potential constitutional issues.”

Supreme Court rules against protester, avoids First Amendment claim

Emily Grannis | News | February 27, 2014
February 27, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday unanimously declined to address the First Amendment claims of a protester who was banned from a military base , deciding the case solely on property ownership grounds.

Anti-war activist John Apel was banned from Vandenberg Air Force base in 2003 after he was involved in a protest that included throwing blood on a sign at the base. He was arrested and served two months in jail and was barred from the base for three years. After he began protesting there again in 2008, the base commander permanently banned Apel.

House passes FOIA reform bill

Emily Grannis | Freedom of Information | News | February 26, 2014
February 26, 2014

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday unanimously passed the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, paving the way for more streamlined Freedom of Information Act request processing and a stronger role for the independent agency charged with reviewing government compliance.

H. B. 1211 creates a presumption of openness, allowing a document to be withheld only if an agency “reasonably foresees that disclosure would cause specific identifiable harm to an interest protected by an exemption, or if disclosure is prohibited by law.” Current FOIA law simply instructs agencies to release non-exempt information, rather than starting from the presumption that all information should be released and only then applying narrow exemptions.

Defamation verdict in Air Wisconsin case vacated by Supreme Court

Michael Rooney | Libel | News | January 27, 2014
January 27, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled today in Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper that airlines cannot be held liable for reporting safety threats to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if the report was essentially true, even if some details were false. The Court held that airlines would not be stripped of the statutory immunity from civil suits under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) for reporting such safety threats.

Presidential review group urges reform of FISA Court and end to bulk metadata collection

Jamie Schuman | Newsgathering | News | December 18, 2013
December 18, 2013

A group appointed by President Obama to review U.S. surveillance policies recommended today that the government end bulk storage of telephone metadata, and, instead, contact private companies directly in the individual cases that it needs that information.

The panel also called on the government to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by creating a public interest advocate to represent privacy and civil liberties interests; instituting declassification reviews to increase the court's transparency; and dividing the power to appoint judges to the FISC among the Supreme Court justices. The group also recommended that the government not undermine efforts to create encryption standards.

Journalist dismissed from embed status loses suit against military officials

Jamie Schuman | Prior Restraints | News | December 10, 2013
December 10, 2013

The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., dismissed a freelance journalist's challenge last week to a U.S. Army decision to terminate the reporter's embed status with military in Afghanistan.

The Army had found that the journalist, Wayne Anderson, had published a video in 2010 showing the faces of wounded American soldiers on The Washington Times website in violation of rules governing embedded reporters. Anderson sued five military officials, claiming, among other things, that they violated his free speech and due process rights by ending his position in Afghanistan without a meaningful hearing.

Tech companies call on government to end bulk data collection and reform other surveillance policies

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | December 9, 2013
December 9, 2013

Eight leading technology companies called on the U.S. government Monday to end bulk data collection of Internet communications and to lead a worldwide effort to implement other reforms to surveillance policies.

The groups – AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo – detailed five proposed reforms on a website and in a letter to President Obama and the U.S. Congress. They want courts that review surveillance policies to use a clear legal framework, have adversarial proceedings and publicize big decisions. They also are asking that governments limit their authority to collect data to specific, known users; allow companies to publish the number and nature of demands for records; respect the free flow of information across borders; and work to avoid conflicts amongst nations in policies that govern data requests.

White House releases national action plan for open government

Emily Grannis | Freedom of Information | News | December 6, 2013
December 6, 2013

The White House today released the second Open Government National Action Plan, laying out 23 commitments to increase government transparency.

The administration launched the first National Action Plan in 2011. Today's plan reports that so far the government has met 24 of the 26 commitments in that plan.

"Building upon these efforts to create a more efficient, effective and accountable government, the adminsitration is issuing the second Open Government National Action Plan," today's report explained. "The new plan includes a wide range of actions the administration will take over the next two years, including commitments that build upon past successes as well as several new initiatives."