U.S.

Comments to Food and Nutrition Services on release of SNAP data

August 28, 2014

The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has requested public comment on a proposal that could make aggregated food stamp redemption data public record under FOIA. The questions FNS posed have to do with whether such data at the individual store level should be considered exempt under (b)(4) as a confidential business record. The Reporters Committee urged FNS to recognize that this information is public and not exempt under any FOIA exemption.

Comments to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

August 29, 2014

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board sought comments on what issues it should examine as a long-term agenda. The Reporters Committee led a coalition of 24 media organizations in urging the board to investigate the extent to which journalists are being included within the scope of any national security surveillance programs.

Elonis v. United States

August 22, 2014

The case interprets 18 U.S.C. 875(c), which prohibits interstate transmission of a threatening communication. Mr. Elonis posted on his Facebook page several raps about his ex-wife and the judge presiding over their child custody battle. The appeal turns on whether "true threats" -- which are not protected speech -- should be evaluated based on the speaker's subjective intent to threaten, or based on whether an objective/reasonable listener would take the statements as threats. We argue that a subjective intent test is necessary to protect members of the media and provide the broadest leeway for protected commentary, satire and reporting. We do not argue that Mr. Elonis should escape liability for his statements, but rather that the test the lower court applied was erroneous.

Free press groups petition Attorney General on behalf of journalist James Risen

Emily Grannis | Newsgathering | News | August 14, 2014
News
August 14, 2014

More than 100,000 people, including 20 Pulitzer Prize winners, signed a petition submitted to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder today urging the administration to rethink its policy of subpoenaing journalists to reveal their sources.

Seven representatives of free press organizations announced the delivery of the petition at the National Press Club this afternoon and called on the administration to drop its threatened subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen.

Risen has been fighting since 2007 to protect a confidential source he used in writing a book about the Central Intelligence Agency, and he joined the panel at the press conference today.

Supreme Court requires police to obtain warrants before searching cell phones

Bradleigh Chance | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 25, 2014
News
June 25, 2014

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in favor of digital privacy Wednesday that says police generally need a search warrant to examine an arrested person’s cell phone.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a sweeping opinion, stating that digital devices contain collections of potentially sensitive information. The Court rejected arguments that searching a cellphone is akin to examining anything else officers might find on someone they arrest.

“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” Roberts wrote.

The opinion still allows police to search cell phones without warrants under “exigent circumstances.” This includes “ticking-bomb scenarios” or instances when there’s reason to believe evidence is going to be destroyed.

Senators introduce bipartisan FOIA amendment

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Freedom of Information | News | June 25, 2014
News
June 25, 2014

Two senators crossed party lines in support of legislation that would strengthen the current Freedom of Information Act and diminish agencies’ excuses for withholding documents.

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced the bill June 24 after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a meeting in March to discuss changes to the FOIA.

“The Freedom of Information Act is one of our nation’s most important laws, established to give Americans greater access to their government and to hold government accountable,” Leahy said in a press release.

Sen. Wyden speaks out against new policy restricting access to intelligence sources

Bradleigh Chance | Newsgathering | News | June 18, 2014
News
June 18, 2014

On the Senate floor this week Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., praised new statutory protections for intelligence agency whistleblowers, but expressed concerns with a new policy created by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that punishes intelligence agency employees for talking to the press.

Wyden worked with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to include the new whistleblower protections in a provision in the 2014 Intelligence Authorization bill, which passed unanimously Wednesday evening, but Wyden’s success with the bill is overshadowed by his frustrations with a new policy from the DNI.

SCOTUSblog press-pass hearing raises questions about Senate credentialing process

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Newsgathering | News | June 6, 2014
News
June 6, 2014

The status of a popular U.S. Supreme Court website as a publication credentialed to cover the Senate rests on a credentialing committee's opinion of the site's past and present ties to the site publisher's law firm.

SCOTUSblog, a website devoted to comprehensive coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court, still awaits a decision from the U.S. Senate Press Gallery Standing Committee of Correspondents on whether it will receive Senate press credentials.

In April, the committee rejected the application of SCOTUSblog editor and reporter Amy Howe and said it would not renew SCOTUSblog reporter Lyle Denniston’s credentials after questioning whether the site fits the gallery’s guidelines for editorial and financial independence.

Supreme Court will not hear Risen's appeal over subpoena in Sterling prosecution

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 2, 2014
News
June 2, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen, who has been subpoenaed to testify in a government leaks prosecution.

Risen could now face jail or fines if he refuses to testify.

Joel Kurtzberg, Risen’s attorney, said the ball is now in the government’s court. Risen was never held in contempt because the trial court initially ruled that he was protected by the reporter’s privilege and did not have to testify. An appellate court later reversed, and that decision now stands.

Therefore, the government will have to pursue Risen’s testimony again in trial court, Kurtzberg said.

“If they say they are going to do that, we will make clear that [Risen] is not going to testify and then there would have to be a contempt hearing,” Kurtzberg said.

Supreme Court: Secret Service immune from Bush protesters' suit

Cindy Gierhart | Newsgathering | News | May 27, 2014
News
May 27, 2014

The Supreme Court unanimously held Tuesday that Secret Service officials could not be sued by protesters who alleged a First Amendment violation for being moved away from then-President George W. Bush while Bush supporters were allowed to remain.

Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed disappointment over the Court's decision. While the ACLU recognizes the obvious need for security surrounding the president, he said "that does not include the right to shield the President from criticism . . . . In our view, the jury should have been allowed to decide whether this case was actually about security or censorship."