Briefs & Comments

  • April 14, 2017

    Petitioners Talib Abdur-Rashid, an Imam at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, and Samir Hashmi, student and former treasurer of a Muslim Student Association, both sought records pertaining to the NYPD's alleged surveillance of them and their organizations. For both records requests, the NYPD issued Glomar-like denials, stating that they could neither confirm nor deny the existence of such records. After appeals, the Appellate Division dismissed both petitions, allowing the use of the Glomar doctrine for state records requests. An appeal to the New York Court of Appeals followed. In an amicus brief in support of the petitioners, we argued that use of the Glomar response, a federal, judicial doctrine developed to protect national security interests, should not apply at the state level and would greatly limit the act's effectiveness as a tool for keeping the public informed about the government.

  • March 6, 2017

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the Department of Justice on proposed revisions to its Freedom of Information Act regulations. We recommended that all components of the DOJ should accept FOIA requests via email, and that the Office of Information Policy should accept administrative appeals submitted via email. 

  • February 27, 2017

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments regarding a proposed rule promulgated by the Office of Government Information Services ("OGIS"). The comments recommend that OGIS expand the scope of the proposed rule to cover all of its statutory functions, and remove secrecy and confidentiality requirements in the proposed rule regarding mediation services. 

  • February 27, 2017

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments on proposed regulations issued by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) on its mediation program. The comments argued that (1) the scope of the proposed rule issued by OGIS was inadequate, and should be revised to cover all of its activities, and (2) that the proposed rule contained unwarranted and unacceptable confidentiality provisions that should be removed.

  • December 28, 2016

    The Detroit Free Press sought to obtain the booking photos of federal indictees who had been publiicly named and had appeared in open court through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The U.S. Marshals Service denied the request, citing Exemption 7(C) of FOIA. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the Detroit Free Press. On appeal before the entire circuit court, the Sixth Circuit held that individuals maintain a "non-trival privacy interest" in booking photos. In response, the Detroit Free Press has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. In support of the petition, the Reporters Committee argues that the booking photos of federal indictees do not implicate any cognizable privacy interests under the Constitution or the common law and should not be exempt from FOIA under Exemption 7(C).

  • December 22, 2016

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the Department of Justice regarding its implementation of a "Release to One, Release to All" policy for the federal Freedom of Information Act. The comments were based on an RCFP survey of journalists concerning various aspects of posting records responsive to FOIA requests online.

  • September 29, 2016

    Reporter Mattathias Schwatz filed a FOIA lawsuit challenging the DEA's refusal to release a video of a May 2012 DEA-led raid in Honduras that involved the use of deadly force against civilians. The government maintained the video fell within the scope of Exemption 7(E), which protects law enforcement techniques and procedures. After an in-camera review of the video and several declarations, the district court held that the video was not exempt and ordered it released. The DEA appealed the ruling to the Second Circuit.

  • 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 26, 2016

    The Reporters Committee and 14 media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of a motion by Michael Grabell, a reporter for ProPublica, for the New York Court of Appeals to hear a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) case concerning access to records on the NYPD's x-ray van (or Z Backscatter Vans) program. The amicus brief argued that the intermediate appellate court's decision below (1) ignored publicly available information about ZBVs and failed to order the release of segregable information, and (2) jeopardized the ability of FOIL to serve as an effective tool for public oversight of law enforcement activities.

  • 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.