Freedom of Information

Sixth Circuit limits access to federal mug shots

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

District attorney drops charges against jailed Georgia journalist, attorney

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Freedom of Information | News | July 7, 2016
July 7, 2016

Following almost two weeks of pressure from free speech groups and press coverage, a Georgia district attorney moved to drop felony charges against a newspaper publisher and his attorney earlier today.

Court rules FOIA can apply to private email accounts

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | July 6, 2016
July 6, 2016

Agency records can be subject to the Freedom of Information Act even if they are kept in an employee’s nongovernmental email account, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Office of Science and Technology Policy reversed a decision by a district court, which dismissed the case last year. The D.C. Circuit’s decision could set an important precedent for journalists and other FOIA requesters by clarifying that agency records are subject to FOIA regardless of their location.

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

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

More states set privacy restrictions on bodycam video

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | June 29, 2016
June 29, 2016

The past month has seen a flurry of legislative activity by states seeking to regulate access to video from police body cameras. New Hampshire, Minnesota and Louisiana recently passed laws exempting some video from disclosure, while several other states are considering bills that place privacy restrictions on access.

Bodycams have become increasingly popular as tools to ensure police transparency, but releasing the footage has prompted privacy concerns. Most state open records laws would consider body camera videos to be public records, but also include some exemptions from release for records that would violate a subject's privacy.

In re Friedman

June 15, 2016

Jesse Friedman was denied access to witness statements provided to local law enforcement under the confidential source exemption in New York's Freedom of Information Law. The Reporters Committee and 19 media organizations argued that the Second Department of the Appellate Division erred in concluding that non-testifying witness statements are categorically exempt under FOIL. Not only are blanket exemptions contrary to FOIL, but the holding below is contrary to those of the other Departments in the Appellate Division and the United States Supreme Court. Access to witness statements is also crucially important for the press to keep the public informed about the activities of law enforcement agencies, which counsels against a blanket exemption for such statements. 

State police win right to "neither confirm nor deny" records exist

Luis Ferre Sadurni | Freedom of Information | News | June 15, 2016
June 15, 2016

Earlier this month a New York appellate court affirmed the New York City Police Department's decision to "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of records on the surveillance of two Muslim men. The NYPD's response, also known as a Glomar response and traditionally used by federal agencies, marks the first time a state appellate court has upheld its use by a local government entity, setting a troubling legal precedent and a hurdle for open government advocates.

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. 

Police policies a mixed bag

D.C. police release some bodycam videos as national debate over access continues
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Adam Marshall

MPD Video/YouTube

Much of the initial bodycam video released by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department showed officers learning to use the equipment.

The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department recently released 12 police bodycam videos in response to a public records request from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The release of about 23 total minutes of video comes more than five months after the Council passed a law setting forth procedures for public access to the videos.