Freedom of Information

Reporters Committee prevails in Missouri execution drug secrecy case

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | July 17, 2015
July 17, 2015

A circuit court in Missouri has ruled that the state Department of Corrections cannot withhold information about the pharmacies and laboratories that compound, test, and supply the drugs that the state uses to carry out executions.

The ruling is a rare legal victory for the public’s right to know details about the sources of such drugs amid widespread concerns over the legality of how they are obtained.

“The public has a compelling interest and a clear right to know how their government is carrying out executions,” said Katie Townsend, Litigation Director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “This ruling vindicates that right, and is an important win for the people of Missouri and the rest of the United States.”

Access to Police Body-Worn Camera Video

This map shows the current status of state legislation and police department policies regarding public access to police body-worn cameras (“bodycams” or “BWCs”) around the United States under public records laws. See more notes below.

Federal agencies announce limited trial of "release for one, release to all" FOIA policy

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | News | July 9, 2015
July 9, 2015

With little public fanfare, seven federal agencies have announced a controversial trial program of publishing documents responsive to most Freedom of Information Act requests online.

Under the program, known as a “Release-to-One is Release-to-All” policy, any member of the public will presumably have access to the result of almost any FOIA request.

Few other details were released in a brief announcement posted on several agency websites. It remains to be seen whether there will be a delay between sending responsive documents to the requester and posting them for the general public, or whether requesters will simply be sent a link to a public website that already hosts the documents.

Maryland court rules police discipline files exempt from disclosure, but access varies widely by state

Jacob Donnelly | Freedom of Information | News | July 2, 2015
July 2, 2015

Police disciplinary files are exempt from the Maryland Public Information Act, the Maryland Court of Appeals said in a 5-2 ruling on Thursday.

The majority noted that the law exempts personnel information from disclosure and does not make a distinction based on whether a citizen’s complaint is “sustained” or “unsustained.” It said that mandatory disclosure of the findings could have a chilling effect on the disciplinary process.

CFO estimates for cost of releasing DC police body cam footage unsubstantiated, groups say

Freedom of Information | Commentary | June 29, 2015
June 29, 2015

The following was prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, District of Columbia Office of Open Government/Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, D.C. Police Union, D.C. Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the D.C. Open Government Coalition.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, in April, proposed outfitting every patrol officer with a body-worn camera to record interactions with the public. She announced the expansion at her State of the District address, claiming “[a]ccountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.” The goals were to improve interactions with civilians, assist investigations of officer misconduct, and promote public trust of the MPD. The cost: $5.1 million in fiscal year 2016 and a blanket exemption denying the public access to the videos.

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.

D.C. Circuit rules in favor of Prison Legal News' appeal against Bureau of Prisons

Jacob Donnelly | Freedom of Information | News | June 12, 2015
June 12, 2015

The Federal Bureau of Prisons's categorical justification of redactions in a freedom of information suit filed by Prison Legal News was not appropriate, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled last week.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the case.

In FOIA cases, the government has the burden of showing that an exemption is warranted. The prison bureau initially produced no records and denied PLN’s request for a fee waiver after PLN filed a FOIA request in 2003 seeking all documents related to the money the bureau paid in connection with lawsuits and claims brought against the bureau from January 1, 1996, to July 31, 2003.

Cybersecurity legislation raises concerns for journalists

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Kristin Bergman

President Obama's 2015 State of the Union address urged Congress to pass legislation to address cyber threats: “If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable.”

After years of proposed, but ultimately unsuccessful, legislation, the “year of the data breach” and executive pressure have pushed Congress closer to passing federal cybersecurity legislation. Though focused on the balance between information sharing and privacy in order to address national security — a goal that seems to primarily affect consumers, data holders, and the government — these bills have great implications for journalists and their sources.

Bodycams: seeing, but not being seen

Reporters face challenges in obtaining police body camera videos
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Adam Marshall

Police departments across the nation are implementing body-worn cameras (also called BWCs, or bodycams) in an effort to improve community relations and create a more objective record of officers’ activities. As recent news events have proved, these videos can provide crucial information about what transpired in a situation. Gaining access to bodycam videos, however, is proving to be a challenging endeavor for journalists.

Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously rejects effort to halt public records lawsuit for execution records

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | June 11, 2015
June 11, 2015

On Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously denied an effort to overturn a lower court’s ruling that cleared the way for a lawsuit to obtain records on the botched execution of Clayton Lockett.

Ziva Branstetter, an Oklahoma-based reporter for The Frontier, and Tulsa World filed the lawsuit in December against Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Thompson for withholding public records requested under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.