Dept. of Justice FOIA Regulations

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. 

Microsoft v. Dep't of Justice

September 2, 2016

Microsoft challenged the federal law that allows the Department of Justice to impose gag orders, often permanently, on communications services providers when served with a search warrant for their customers' records. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of 29 other media organizations, argued that the gag orders function as prior restraints that interfere with the news media's right to receive information, interfere with the right of access to court records, and threaten the confidential relationship between reporters and their sources. The brief was written with attorneys with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

Court rules FOIA can apply to private email accounts

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | July 6, 2016
July 6, 2016

Agency records can be subject to the Freedom of Information Act even if they are kept in an employee’s nongovernmental email account, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Office of Science and Technology Policy reversed a decision by a district court, which dismissed the case last year. The D.C. Circuit’s decision could set an important precedent for journalists and other FOIA requesters by clarifying that agency records are subject to FOIA regardless of their location.

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. 

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.

Supreme Court requires police to obtain warrants before searching cell phones

Bradleigh Chance | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 25, 2014
June 25, 2014

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in favor of digital privacy Wednesday that says police generally need a search warrant to examine an arrested person’s cell phone.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a sweeping opinion, stating that digital devices contain collections of potentially sensitive information. The Court rejected arguments that searching a cellphone is akin to examining anything else officers might find on someone they arrest.

“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” Roberts wrote.

The opinion still allows police to search cell phones without warrants under “exigent circumstances.” This includes “ticking-bomb scenarios” or instances when there’s reason to believe evidence is going to be destroyed.

Several speech, access bills passed by Texas Legislature

Jack Komperda | Freedom of Information | News | May 30, 2013
May 30, 2013

The Texas Legislature passed several measures this week designed to improve open government and protect First Amendment interests for journalists and other members of the public.

Governments continue to come up with new ways to prevent access to records

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AP Photos by Mike Groll, Kevin Wolf

Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Lisa Jackson

If the back and forth between public records requesters and government officials can be likened to a game, a series of recent cases involving disputes over whether particular records are public highlights what transparency advocates says is a constant problem: the rules are always changing.

Judiciary Committee approves "overdue" e-mail privacy bill

Lilly Chapa | Privacy | News | December 3, 2012
December 3, 2012

The Senate Judiciary Committee Friday unanimously approved a “very overdue” bill that would require law enforcement officials to get a warrant before accessing e-mail messages, updating a dated privacy law.

The proposed amendments are historic and will create a consistent method for handling government access to online communications, said Sophia Cope, director of government affairs at the Newspaper Association of America. But the measure likely won’t go to the Senate this year, forcing the process to start over again next year, she said.