Freedom of Information

Oklahoma judge lets open records lawsuit for botched execution records continue

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 13, 2015
April 13, 2015

An Okahoma trial judge has denied a motion to dismiss an open records lawsuit against Oklahoma Gov. Marry Fallin and Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Tompson.

The case involves several requests made by Tulsa World Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter under Oklahoma's Open Records Act seeking, among other things, the transcripts of witness interviews conducted as part of the investigation into what happened during Clayton Lockett's botched execution in April 2014, and for email between state officials discussing the issue.

Branstetter's requests were pending for seven months before she and Tulsa World filed suit.

Katie Townsend, litigation director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with Robert Nelon of Hall Estill, argued before the court last Friday on behalf of Tulsa World and Branstetter.

Reporters Committee seeks review of denied FOIA request for D.C. police body camera video

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 6, 2015
April 6, 2015

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has submitted an administrative appeal to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser urging her to overturn the Metropolitan Police Department’s decision to withhold footage from police body-worn cameras requested by the Reporters Committee under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act.

In discussing the department’s body camera program last week during her State of the District address, Mayor Bowser said that “accountability is embedded, and will be embedded in everything this administration does.” Mayor Bowser also stated that the use of body cameras will be expanded to cover all patrol officers over the coming months.

ACLU v. Superior Court

February 10, 2015

The ACLU of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, city and county of Los Angeles, and the L.A. Police Department for release of automatic license plate recognition system records. The trial court determined that all such records are exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act as investigatory records. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief arguing that the trial court's reading of the investigatory records exemption was overbroad and erroneous and emphasized the importance to the press of access to police records.

Milner v. Department of Defense

March 11, 2015

Plaintiff Milner sought info from the Department of Defense under FOIA for records relating to the construction of an explosives handling wharf at a naval base. The department cited, among other exemptions, 10 U.S.C. § 130e, a statute that allows an exemption for "critical infrastructure" information but requires that a public interest balancing test. The Reporters Committee submitted an amicus letter to the district court for the Western District of Washington in support of Mr. Milner, arguing that based on the legislative history and text of the statute, as well as the department's own interpretation, it is important that there be an opportunity for the public to provide input on the importance of public access to the information that the government wishes to exempt under the statute.

The Tennessean et al. v. Metropolitan Govt of Nashville

February 27, 2015

Members of news media made records requests to the Nashville police department for records regarding an alleged rape on the Vanderbilt campus. The trial court granted access to certain categories of records, but the Court of Appeals later held that the records should be exempt. Before the state high court, the Reporters Committee and others submitted an amicus brief arguing that the records act mandates maximum access to government records, including information created by third parties and received by law enforcement agencies, and that the records are not exempt under rule used by the appellate court because it does not bar access to third party records that do not constitute work product. The brief also argued that the state's Victims Bill of Rights does not create an exemption to the act, and that allowing a broad law enforcement exception would have a devastating effect on the ability of the press to report on issues that are of utmost public concern.

Letter to Texas Attorney General on Disclosure of Use of Force Policies

January 29, 2015

In response to a request under the Texas Public Information Act for use-of-force policies, the City of Victoria, Texas, asked the Attorney General whether it must disclose the records or whether they are exempt because they would interfere with law enforcement activities. The City’s reasoning is not only insufficient to warrant withholding the requested records, but also relies on the incorrect assertion that their release would impede law enforcement activity. The citizens of Texas have a paramount interest in information concerning the use of force, including deadly force, by law enforcement officers.

Peer News LLC v. City & County of Honolulu

January 27, 2015

Civil Beat, published by Peer News LLC, is an investigative and watchdog journalism outlet focused on public affairs reporting in Hawaii. Civil Beat was denied a request for the names and disciplinary information of 12 Honolulu Police Department officers who were allegedly suspended but not discharged. When Peer News went to court, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO) intervened in the suit in support of the HPD. The trial court ordered that the records be released. In an appeal brought by SHOPO, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an amicus brief arguing that state law recognizes that the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public's interests is to open up government records to scrutiny.

State legislatures seek to exempt police body camera footage from open records laws

Freedom of Information | Commentary | April 1, 2015
April 1, 2015

Hannah Bloch-Wehba and Adam Marshall

Dozens of state legislatures across the United States are considering legislation that would exempt footage from police body-worn cameras, or "bodycams," from disclosure under state open records laws, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has learned. Though the new technology is supposed to enhance transparency and accountability, the proposed measures may actually increase secrecy.

Reporters Committee attorneys represent Alan Morrison in suit seeking justification for CIA rendition program

Freedom of Information | Commentary | March 24, 2015
March 24, 2015

Adam Marshall and Hannah Bloch-Wehba

Alan Morrison, a dean and constitutional law professor at the George Washington University Law School, has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency for access to records detailing the legal justification for rendition and extraordinary rendition programs conducted by the United States. Attorneys at The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are representing Morrison pro bono.

For many years, the United States has sought to bring criminal suspects to the United States for prosecution without using extradition procedures, a practice referred to as rendition. After September 11, 2001, the CIA began a program of so-called “extraordinary rendition.” Under that program, detainees would be transferred into the custody of third-party nations, or to secretly-operated prisons known as “black sites,” for detention and interrogation.

The failures of the information security infrastructure

Summit considers questions of data encryption and protection for journalists
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Jenn Henrichsen

In an age of big data and mass state surveillance, the rapid expansion of interconnected networks without secure infrastructure is causing concern among many information security experts, lawyers, privacy advocates, and journalists.

To address these challenges and others, information security experts, policymakers, journalists, activists, and military officials convened at the New America Foundation’s inaugural cybersecurity summit in Washington, D.C. on February 23. Amidst the diverse set of topics and speakers, several key takeaways and themes emerged, many of which have implications for the media.