Briefs & Comments

  • September 9, 2016

    Various New Jersey governmental entities argued that citizens of states other than New Jersey should not be allowed to use the Open Public Records Act. The Reporters Committee and a coalition of 18 newsmedia organizations argued that (1) members of the news media play a crucial role in keeping the public informed that is unrelated to the citizenship or geographic location of the journalists involved, and (2) that journalists and news organizations located outside of New Jersey have used OPRA to report on matters of immense importance for both citizens of that state and the country as a whole

  • August 15, 2016

    The Legal Aid Society has asserted they have a right under New York's Freedom of Information Law ("FOIL") to a summary of the number of substantiated complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board concerning Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a New York Police Department officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in July 2014. At issue is whether the summary constitutes a "personnel record" under CRL § 50-a, a New York state law that exempts some police personnel files from disclosure under FOIL. The Reporters Committee argued in an amicus brief, which was joined by 20 other news organizations, that the summary does not constitute a "personnel record," and even if it weren't, disclosure would not frustrate the primary purpose of the statute, which was to prevent personnel records from being used to harass officers in the context of litigation.

  • July 29, 2016

    The Reporters Committee and a coalition of news media organizations submitted comments on a draft policy regarding the NYPD's bodycam program. The comments highlight the importance of compliance with New York's Freedom of Information Law when it comes to requests for bodycam video. They address, among other things, the limited scope of exceptions to disclosure, segregation requirements, technology and redactions, discretionary releases, and fees associated with FOIL requests.

  • June 30, 2016

    A requester sought police audio and video taken at the site of a car crash in Pennsylvania, under the state's Right to Know Law. The Pennsylvania State Police denied the request, citing several exemptions. The requester sued, and the trial court held that one of the videos must be released, but that portions of the audio in another video could be redacted. The PSP appealed the decision. The amicus brief of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and the Reporters Committee argues: (1) police dashcam videos are documentary in nature, and generally cannot be withheld under exemptions that apply to investigatory material; (2) the PA Wiretap Act does not prevent the disclosure of dashcam videos under the Right to Know Law; and (3) access to dashcam videos and bodycam videos is important is important for the public and the press to understand the actions of law enforcement and engage in democratic oversight of their government.

  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.