Freedom of Information

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.

ACLU of Southern California v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County

June 19, 2015

The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sought Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) data from the City and County of Los Angeles under the California Public Records Act. The City and County contended that all such data was exempt from disclosure as law enforcement records. The City and County prevailed at the trial and appellate court; ACLU and EFF filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of California. We argued that the breadth of the law enforcement exemption, as interpreted by the court of appeal, violated the constitutional obligation to construe exemptions from disclosure narrowly. Broad law enforcement exemptions shield too many records from public disclosure, and construing the Public Records Act to exempt these documents would significantly impair the ability of the press to inform the public about law enforcement activity.

Sacramento mayor continues to resist public record requests for emails

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | September 22, 2015
September 22, 2015

Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, and the Sacramento City Attorney are now resisting efforts by two separate news organizations to gain access to public records, according to a recent filing in a California court.

The development is the latest twist in an unusual public records dispute in which Johnson has sued his own city and the Sacramento News & Review in an effort to prevent the release of email requested by the newspaper under the California Public Records Act. Now both the mayor and the city’s attorney are trying to keep Deadspin, which also requested the email, out of the case.

Closed Doors

Finding other entrances in pursuit of access
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Photo courtesy of Pine Tree Watchdog

John Christie

By John Christie

Usually, lobbyists stay as far away as possible from investigative reporters. But this lobbyist was so fed up, he made an exception. His problem was also unexpected for a lobbyist: being denied access at the Maine Statehouse.

His job was to look out for the interests of Maine’s municipal governments, especially during budget season when the state legislature decides, among other things, how much aid to send to cities and towns.

“I think you ought to look into this,” he said. “Someone has to call them on this.”

Thwarting Walker's wishes

Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to gut Wisconsin's open-records law fails
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Kelly Swanson

AP Photo

Gov. Walker's attempts to significantly limit the open records act failed.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker again found himself on the opposite side of transparency advocates after admitting to an attempt to sneak in language to a late night omnibus motion to substantially limit the Wisconsin open-records law.