Freedom of Information

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.

FixFOIAby50 gains momentum

Congress moves to reform FOIA by its anniversary
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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.

Private email, government business

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

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. 

Grabell v. NYPD

October 7, 2015

ProPublica journalist Michael Grabell requested records related to the New York Police Department's use of Z Backscatter Vans under New York's Freedom of Information Law. When the NYPD refused to comply, asserting that the release of information would endanger the Department's counterterrorism program, Grabell filed suit in New York. The court ruled that most of the information must be released. Grabell is represented by Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. We argued that the NYPD's use of backscatter x-ray technology is a matter of significant public interest and has been the subject of extensive reporting. Considering the detailed information already available to the public about backscatter x-rays, NYPD's contention that any release of information concerning the technology could allow terrorists to exploit "limitations in the van's x-ray capabilities" is unconvincing.

Cincinnati Enquirer v. Deters

February 8, 2016

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court regarding access to police body-worn camera ("BWC" or "bodycam") videos under Ohio's Public Records Act. The video in question shows the shooting of Samuel DuBose by a University of Cincinnati police officer. RCFP's amicus brief argues that bodycam videos are not confidential law enforcement records under Ohio Public Records Act and accordingly must be released upon request. It also demonstrates the great public interest in having an accurate account of the interactions between law enforcement officers and members of the public, especially in use of force incidents.

Letter to Florida legislature regarding FOIA fee shifting legislation

January 28, 2016

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 24 news organizations urged Florida lawmakers to reject two bills that propose the elimination of mandatory fee-shifting for public records requestors who are successful in cases where records are "unlawfully" withheld.

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.