U.S.

Supplemental testimony re: SPEAK FREE Act, H.R. 2304

August 10, 2016

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown submitted supplemental testimony to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, explaining the Constitutional authority for enacting the federal anti-SLAPP bill. Specifically, the testimony details how Congress is authorized to enact the SPEAK FREE Act under the Commerce Clause and is authorized to include a broad removal provision under Article III.

Pentagon revises war manual to emphasize protections for journalists

Sophie Murguia | Newsgathering | News | July 28, 2016
News
July 28, 2016

The Pentagon has updated its Law of War manual to clarify that journalists are generally protected as civilians under international law. The changes, announced last week, came after media groups expressed concern that some language in the original version could put reporters at risk of being considered spies or combatants.

The manual, first released in 2015, is the Department of Defense’s guide to international law as it applies to the U.S. military. The original manual drew criticism for saying that although journalists are usually civilians, they can sometimes be “unprivileged belligerents” — a category that includes guerrillas and spies.

Chief FOIA Officers Council meets for the first time

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Freedom of Information | News | July 25, 2016
News
July 25, 2016

The Chief FOIA Officers Council, charged with addressing the most important difficulties in administering FOIA across government, met for the first time July 22 to begin the process of implementing a “release to one is a release to all” standard for federal records.

The policy would make agencies release FOIA-processed records to one requester and simultaneously to the general public by posting them online.

Concerns about the policy from both journalists and FOIA officers were addressed at the meeting. Many reporters worry that releasing requested documents to the public would compromise their reporting by allowing others to steal their “scoop.” Agency FOIA officers were troubled by the burden of ensuring records are accessible to all and in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Senate committee considers what's next for FOIA

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | July 13, 2016
News
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.

President Obama Signs FOIA Reform Bill into Law on 50th Anniversary

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Freedom of Information | News | June 30, 2016
News
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.

Federal anti-SLAPP bill is focus of House hearing

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Libel | News | June 23, 2016
News
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.

Testimony of Bruce Brown before the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice re: Speak Free Act, H.R. 2304

June 22, 2016

In testimony prepared for the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce Brown tells lawmakers that the time has come to enact a federal anti-SLAPP law.

Comments on Department of Labor Regulations

June 13, 2016

The Reporters Committee submitted administrative comments to the Department of Labor recommending that it modify its Privacy Act routine uses so that OGIS can better fulfill its statutory duties under FOIA. 

Rule 41 Comment

February 17, 2015

The Reporters Committee filed comments regarding the proposed amendment to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41 concerning "remote access" searches of electronic media. The proposed amendment to Rule 41 offers insufficient safeguards for newsgathering and other First Amendment-protected activity. Remote-access searches of journalists’ computers can reveal a variety of confidential information, including lists of contacts, work product, and reporter-source communications. These searches would violate the Privacy Protection Act and the First and Fourth Amendments. The proposed amendment offers insufficient protection to journalists who use encryption and anonymity tools.

Stackhouse v. Colorado

November 18, 2015

James Stackhouse, a criminal defendant appealing his conviction, is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of “[w]hether a criminal defendant’s inadvertent failure to object to a courtroom closure is an ‘intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right’ that affirmatively waives his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, or is instead a forfeiture, which does not wholly foreclose appellate review.” In an amicus brief in support of the importance of open court proceedings, the Reporters Committee argued that the nearly identical First and Sixth Amendment rights of access to judicial proceedings require trial courts to independently examine whether closure is warranted, regardless of whether the defendant objects.