Freedom of Information

Scheeler v. ACJIF

September 9, 2016

Various New Jersey governmental entities argued that citizens of states other than New Jersey should not be allowed to use the Open Public Records Act. The Reporters Committee and a coalition of 18 newsmedia organizations argued that (1) members of the news media play a crucial role in keeping the public informed that is unrelated to the citizenship or geographic location of the journalists involved, and (2) that journalists and news organizations located outside of New Jersey have used OPRA to report on matters of immense importance for both citizens of that state and the country as a whole

What the FOIA reform act means to you

Feature
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Adam Marshall

RCFP

percentage of journalists who support a release to one, release to all FOIA policy

In late June, President Obama signed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, bringing important changes to the 50-year old federal transparency law. The measure brings some changes to the FOIA process, notably in exemptions, that will affect requests filed after the law was signed June 30.

Among the law's biggest changes are new limits on FOIA exemptions.

Report on survey of journalists' views on "release to one, release to all" FOIA policy

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | News | August 31, 2016
News
August 31, 2016

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is publishing the results of its survey of journalists on the "release to one, release to all" policy under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). More than 100 self-identified journalists responded to the survey.

Respondents to the survey were generally in favor of a “release to one, release to all” policy if it is implemented with a delay between release to the requester and release to the public. While a quarter of respondents supported the policy unconditionally, almost 60% support it only with conditions, such as a delay period.

Luongo v. Civilian Complaint Review Board

August 15, 2016

The Legal Aid Society has asserted they have a right under New York's Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") to a summary of the number of substantiated complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board concerning Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a New York Police Department officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in July 2014. At issue is whether the summary constitutes a "personnel record" under CRL § 50-a, a New York state law that exempts some police personnel files from disclosure under FOIL. The Reporters Committee argued in an amicus brief, which was joined by 20 other news organizations, that the summary does not constitute a "personnel record," and even if it weren't, disclosure would not frustrate the primary purpose of the statute, which was to prevent personnel records from being used to harass officers in the context of litigation.

NYPD bodycam policy comments

July 29, 2016

The Reporters Committee and a coalition of news media organizations submitted comments on a draft policy regarding the NYPD's bodycam program. The comments highlight the importance of compliance with New York's Freedom of Information Law when it comes to requests for bodycam video. They address, among other things, the limited scope of exceptions to disclosure, segregation requirements, technology and redactions, discretionary releases, and fees associated with FOIL requests.

Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove

June 30, 2016

A requester sought police audio and video taken at the site of a car crash in Pennsylvania, under the state's Right to Know Law. The Pennsylvania State Police denied the request, citing several exemptions. The requester sued, and the trial court held that one of the videos must be released, but that portions of the audio in another video could be redacted. The PSP appealed the decision. The amicus brief of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and the Reporters Committee argues: (1) police dashcam videos are documentary in nature, and generally cannot be withheld under exemptions that apply to investigatory material; (2) the PA Wiretap Act does not prevent the disclosure of dashcam videos under the Right to Know Law; and (3) access to dashcam videos and bodycam videos is important is important for the public and the press to understand the actions of law enforcement and engage in democratic oversight of their government.

Reporters Committee launches survey of journalists on "Release to One, Release to All" FOIA policy

Press Release | August 2, 2016
August 2, 2016

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is conducting a survey of journalists and news organizations on a "Release to One, Release to All" policy under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Generally, the policy calls for records released in response to a FOIA request to be simultaneously posted online for public viewing. A handful of federal agencies recently finished a pilot program, and the federal government is now seeking to roll out the policy across the executive branch.

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.

Sixth Circuit limits access to federal mug shots

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | July 15, 2016
News
July 15, 2016

Federal authorities can withhold mug shots from release due to privacy concerns, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Thursday.

The court, sitting en banc, overturned its 1996 decision, which held that there was no privacy interest to justify exempting federal mug shots from the Freedom of Information Act. The new ruling will not necessarily keep all mug shots from being released, but it will require a case-by-case consideration of whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs privacy interests.

“A disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual,” Judge Deborah Cook wrote for the majority in the 9-7 decision.

The majority argued that the digital age has made privacy concerns even more pressing.

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.