Freedom of Information

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
Page Number: 
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.

ACLU of Southern California & EFF v. Superior Court

May 4, 2016

The ACLU of Southern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the City of Los Angeles under California\'s Public Records Act for records generated by the law enforcement agency's use of automated license plate readers. This case concerns whether information collected by police using "automated license plate readers" - high-speed cameras that automatically scan and record the license plate numbers and time, date and location of every passing vehicle without suspicion of criminal activity - constitute law enforcement "records of . . . investigations" that are permanently exempt from disclosure. We argued that the agencies proposed a definition of "records of . . . investigations" that would expand the exemption beyond recognition.

FBI failed to follow its own rules when it impersonated The Associated Press in a 2007 investigation

Hannah Bloch-Wehba | Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 28, 2016
April 28, 2016

The FBI failed to follow its own rules when agents impersonated an Associated Press reporter in order to locate a criminal suspect in 2007, according to documents newly released in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The Associated Press.

The documents further show that after the impersonation became public, an FBI analysis determined that the non-compliance was reasonable, raising questions about the efficacy of the guidelines altogether.

The Reporters Committee and AP sued the FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice last August for records related to the FBI’s practice of impersonating the news media.

Private email, government business

FOIA community waits for word from D.C. Circuit on whether officials' email in nongovernment accounts is public
Page Number: 
Caitlin Vogus

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

OSTP Director James Holdren walks and talks with President Obama at the White House in 2014.

A pending decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on whether the federal Freedom of Information Act applies to agency records held in nongovernmental email accounts could set an important precedent in favor of access to such records.

Florida forecast cloudy, but now with a chance of sunshine

Attempt to nix attorney fees for successful FOIA litigants in question
Page Number: 
Adam Marshall

AP Photo/Steve Cannon

Florida Sen. Rene Garcia speaks in the legislature in 2015.

Until recently Florida's Public Records Law, widely regarded as one of the strongest in the nation, looked to be in danger of losing one of its most important enforcement mechanisms.

Two bills introduced in the legislature would have eliminated mandatory awards of costs and attorney's fees for successful public records litigants. Instead, courts would have discretion over whether a requester who wins the release of records can recover his expenditures.

FixFOIAby50 gains momentum

Congress moves to reform FOIA by its anniversary
Page Number: 
Adam Marshall

Sunshine in Government Initiative

The FixFOIAby50 logo.

The federal Freedom of Information Act will turn 50 in July, and some members of Congress are pushing to mark the date with a birthday present for the public by passing legislation to streamline access to public records.

Half a century after its enactment, FOIA is showing its age. It has been almost 10 years since the last changes to the law, and only a handful of amendments have been enacted since its original passage in 1966.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette v. Governor's Office of Administration & Pennsylvania Dep't of Edu.

October 20, 2015

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette challenged a policy that gave Pennsylvania executive branch employees the sole discretion to determine whether or not to preserve their emails, and to permanently delete them after five days. The Reporters Committee, joined by a media coalition, argues that the records policy in question is incompatible with the PA Right to Know Law. It allows an agency to destroy public records before being required to respond to a public records request. It also inhibits administrative and judicial review of an individual employee's decision to delete their email. Finally, the brief provided examples of instances where access to emails has resulted in important stories to the citizens of Pennsylvania.