Freedom of Information

Comments on D.C. bodycam legislation

October 21, 2015

The Reporters Committee submitted testimony to the Judiciary Committee of the D.C. Council in response to a public hearing on three bills related to the Metropolitan Police Department's use of body-worn cameras (BWC). The testimony argues that no modifications should be made to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act regarding BWC videos, and includes additional information regarding the failure of the Mayor's Office to incorporate the recommendations of the BWC Advisory Group.

Challenging classification: a third option

Requesters turn to oversight office to gain release of improperly classified records
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Hannah Bloch-Wehba

AP Photo

Stephen Aftergood, pictured in his office in 2002.

When does the public get public records?

Halfway through the federal government's pilot release to one, release to all FOIA program, where do things stand?
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Adam Marshall

Dep't of Justice Photo

Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, is overseeing the pilot program.

In early July, the Reporters Committee reported that several federal agencies had launched a pilot “release to one, release to all” program for records processed under the Freedom of Information Act. Throughout the six-month pilot, seven agencies or components thereof are posting records online as they are processed in connection with individual FOIA requests. Three months in, questions remain about how it is working and what an ideal system might look like in the future.

Three months in

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.

First Amendment Coalition v. Dep't of Justice

October 5, 2015

The First Amendment Coalition sought to recover costs and fees after it received two memoranda from the government in its FOIA case. The district court held that FAC was not eligible to recover fees and costs because a decision in the Second Circuit was the reason one of the memos had been released, and therefore FAC had not "substantially prevailed." In an amicus brief, we argued that the reasons underlying the fee-shifting provision of FOIA serve many purposes, even when multiple parties seek the same information, and Congress's amendments to FOIA have made clear that a party need not secure judicial relief in order to "substantially prevail." Additionally, news, educational, and non-profit organizations play an important role in vindicating the public's right of access to government records, and should be able to rely on the ability to recover fees and costs.

Body cameras meant to improve accountability, but D.C. police won't release images, panelists say

Michael Lambert | Freedom of Information | News | September 30, 2015
September 30, 2015

Although D.C. police officials said one of the aims of its police body camera program was to increase the police's accountability to the public, the public has yet to view any of the footage after repeated public records requests, experts said at a recent panel discussion.

A panel of open record and privacy advocates, including two members of the Reporters Committee staff, explored the current state of police body camera programs and why the recordings have been shielded from the public at an event organized by the D.C. Open Government Coalition and hosted at the Newseum on Sept. 16.

Comments on DHS FOIA Regulations

September 25, 2015

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted comments regarding the proposed updates to the Department of Homeland Security's FOIA regulations. 

Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Office of Science and Technology Policy

August 17, 2015

CEI submitted a FOIA request to the Office of Science and Technology Policy asking for email its director maintained in a non-government email account. The government argued, and the district court agreed, that it did not have jurisdiction over the FOIA claim because the agency was not "withholding" the email. On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals (D.C. Cir.) the Reporters Committee argued that the district court conflated two separate, distinct inquiries in dismissing the FOIA claim, by focusing on whether the information was an "agency record." Given the increasing use of personal emails by government employees, access to such email when it concerns public business is crucial if the public is to be kept informed about what their government is up to.

Abdur-Rashid v. New York City Police Dep't

July 22, 2015

Abdur-Rashid filed a FOIL request with the New York Police Department after the Associated Press reported that the department was conducting surveillance of Muslim communities. The NYPD refused to confirm or deny whether responsive records existed -- which under federal FOIA is known as a "Glomar" response. The trial court accepted the department's argument. The Reporters Committee argued to the N.Y. Supreme Court Appellate Division (1st Dept.) that judicial incorporation of the Glomar doctrine into FOIL would work a profound change to this State's statutory open records regime that was not contemplated or adopted by the Legislature. Allowing state and local agencies to issue Glomar responses will make it more difficult for the press to keep citizens informed about the activities of their government, as journalists routinely rely on FOIL to gain access to important information.