We are calling upon your office to issue clear and strong guidance to the executive departments under your command about the need to promote transparency in responding to APRA requests. In that regard, we would urge that you consider, among other things, the issuance of an executive order emphasizing the need for expeditious responses to APRA requests and calling upon executive agencies to adopt a strong presumption in favor of disclosure in addressing requests for public information.
The public has a right to be alarmed by these constraints — essentially forms of censorship — that have surged at all levels of government in the past few decades. Surveys of journalists and public information officers (PIOs) demonstrate that the restraints have become pervasive across the country; that some PIOs admit to blocking certain reporters when they don’t like what is written; and that most Washington reporters say the public is not getting the information it needs because of the constraints.
To U.S. Sen. Cardin Re: FOIA and Private Prisons (June 12, 2015)
Almost 20 percent of detainees and prisoners in the federal system are held in private jails or prisons. Tens of thousands more are held in jails or prisons run by local jurisdictions. Despite the fact they are holding people in federal custody under color of federal law, these non-federal entities are not subject to the federal FOIA, and the federal agencies that contract out for jail and prison beds often rely on FOIA Exemption 4 – the business trade secrets exemption – to avoid responding in full to FOIA requests pertaining to privately run facilities.
The ability to gather news and inform communities, to understand government and engage with elected leaders, is essential to the democratic process. Yet in my role as executive director I regularly speak with journalists and community members from throughout the state who are frustrated at the inability to obtain information about their government, information that is public by law but in reality is unobtainable and essentially secret.
For many years, the Superior Court Administrative Office granted journalists a user name and password that enabled them to review docket records statewide via www.ma-trialcourts.org. However, as courts have been migrating their docket information to the www.masscourts.org website, members of our coalition have asked for access to www.masscourts.org and been told that a BBO number is required to obtain a login number and password, and hence only members of the Massachusetts Bar can have access.
To Conn. Sen. Coleman and Rep. Tong Re: House Bill 6750 (May 1, 2015)
The Supreme Court last year, unfortunately, tipped the scale in favor of secrecy by ruling that a different section of the FOI statute governed requests for criminal records. The original H.B. 6750 passed by the Government Administration and Elections Committee would tip the scale back to the balance that existed for 20 years and require that § 1-210(b)(3) again control these requests.
Commonwealth v. Melissa Lucas (Mass. 2015)
The statute in issue does not and cannot pass muster under either Article 16 . . . or the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The statute impermissibly restricts the free speech rights of speakers in the Commonwealth, much like similar statutes in Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington struck by courts in recent years. Regulating false speech in the realm of elections, where free speech rights have their highest import, impermissibly allows the government to become the arbiter of political and social discussion.
It is our understanding that in anticipation of the statewide implementation of e-filing, a committee is in the process of drafting rules that will apply to documents filed electronically in the trial courts. Given the impact that any such rules will have on access to e-filed documents . . . our coalition respectfully requests that a representative from the media be appointed to that committee.
With respect to for-profit private prisons, we are deeply troubled by the secrecy with which the contract corrections industry continues to operate. Whereas the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state departments of corrections are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and state public records statutes, respectively, private prison firms that contract with public agencies generally are not.
To President Obama Re: Actions in Commemoration of Sunshine Week (March 10, 2015)
Throughout the United States, federal and state government, media, non-profits, and the public will be celebrating Sunshine Week, an annual event spotlighting the right to know, from March 15th – 21st. The time is ripe, therefore, not only to examine the state of access to government information, but also to make strong advances in government openness. At the very outset of your Presidency, you committed to increase government transparency and accountability. We, the undersigned organizations, ask that you take the following steps this Sunshine Week to honor that commitment.
Detroit Free Press v. U.S. Dept. of Justice (6th Cir. 2015)
Since their inception, mugshots have been open to public inspection. Neither constitutional nor common law recognizes a privacy interest in photographs of persons who have been arrested and indicted, and appeared in open court. … Even if the public availability of booking photographs somehow implicated privacy interests, their significant contribution to public understanding of government activity would still require disclose pursuant to the FOIA.