FOIA enforcement

New D.C. bodycam policies too restrictive, critics testify

Soo Rin Kim | Freedom of Information | News | October 29, 2015
October 29, 2015

Open-government advocates warned District of Columbia officials last week that exemption of all police body-worn camera footage showing "assaults" will undermine the very purpose of the program, as will other provisions designed to delay or deny the release of footage to the public.

The discussion came at a D.C. Council committee's public hearing to discuss three proposed amendments regarding the Metropolitan Police Department’s bodycam program.

The debate centered on how to balance transparency and privacy concerns and whether police body-worn camera recordings should be granted special treatment outside the existing D.C. Freedom of Information Act.

“It is our view that body camera footage is just another public record in simply different format,” said Rebecca Snyder, the President of Maryland, Delaware and D.C. Press Association President.

Execution records appeal leads to ruling limiting Virginia FOIA disclosures

Soo Rin Kim | Freedom of Information | News | October 7, 2015
October 7, 2015

A recent ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in a death penalty records case could jeopardize many more open records requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, after the court held that a government agency can withhold an entire document if any portion is exempt and would have to be redacted.

The case started with a victory in Fairfax Circuit Court for Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who had requested information from the Department of Corrections about the state's methods for executions and the facilities where they are conducted. The department appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled that state law does not require officials to redact documents. If information in a document is exempt from disclosure, the court said, the entire document can be withheld.

FOIA trial offers rare look into how FBI searches records, responds to requests

Jacob Donnelly | Freedom of Information | News | June 18, 2015
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.

FOIA Improvement Act unanimously passes Senate, heads to House

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | December 9, 2014
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.

Media coalition files comments on restrictive Department of Defense FOIA regulations

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | November 6, 2014
November 6, 2014

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by a national coalition of media organizations, has filed comments on proposed Department of Defense (DoD) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations. As the comments note, the press routinely relies on FOIA to gain access to government records in order to inform the public on the workings of the government and its elected officials. Ensuring agencies implement FOIA in a manner that is faithful to the spirit of the law and President Obama’s stated commitment to transparency is imperative in order for the press to perform its important role in our democracy.

Detroit Free Press wins third mugshot lawsuit

Emily Grannis | Freedom of Information | News | April 25, 2014
April 25, 2014

The Detroit Free Press won a lawsuit this week over the public's right to federal mug shots. It was the third time in 20 years that the paper won after suing the federal government on this issue.

Maine bans texting, instant messaging to conduct state business

Michael Rooney | Freedom of Information | News | March 31, 2014
March 31, 2014

In Maine, the administration of Gov. Paul LePage has enacted a ban on state employees’ use of text messaging, instant messaging and the use of personal email accounts to conduct state business.

The directive is an effort to better comply with the Maine Freedom of Access Act, which requires all communications related to state business to be stored as state records and open to public inspection, unless the record falls into a particular exemption category.

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.

Judge rules government does not have to release Guantanamo Bay interrogation images

Latara Appleby | Freedom of Information | News | September 17, 2013
September 17, 2013

A New York federal judge agreed with U.S. agencies that releasing the Guantanamo Bay interrogation photographs and videos of a Saudi national believed to be involved in the Sept. 11 attacks would pose a threat to national security.

S.C. Supreme Court rules public bodies subject to FOIA

Amy Zhang | Freedom of Information | News | July 18, 2013
July 18, 2013

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state's public records law does not violate the First Amendment speech and association rights of nonprofits that are subject to the law's disclosure requirements because of their financial ties to local governments.