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Court finds no right of access to prostitution investigation wiretaps

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  1. Court Access
The New York Times lost its bid to unseal records related to the investigation of a prostitution ring that brought…

The New York Times lost its bid to unseal records related to the investigation of a prostitution ring that brought down New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, after the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York City (2nd Cir.) on Friday overturned a lower court’s order.

The appellate court ruled that the Times had not shown "good cause" to have the wiretap applications and other materials, including interim reports explaining evidence obtained with the wiretaps in order to continue the surveillance, unsealed.

The lower court had held that the materials were "judicial records" that were relevant to the court’s handling of the cases, and thus a presumptive public right of access applied. The "good cause" requirement merely meant that the interests of both sides must be balanced, the court held, and the balancing here favored release.

But the appellate court found the "good cause" requirement reflected a congressional intent to protect the privacy of those who were subject to wiretaps, and thus no balancing of interests was necessary. It also found no First Amendment-based right of access, because the "history and logic" of access to wiretap applications favors secrecy.