Press Coverage

NEFAC receives considerable press coverage each year for its consistent advocacy of freedom of information and First Amendment concerns. Below are links to stories we’ve appeared in during the current year. Coverage from previous years can be seen here:

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Russian Hacking Story Involving CT Voter Registration Database Debunked | CT Insider 9.2.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said there aren’t many examples of the information being used nefariously — for identity fraud or other scams — but that the voter databases in states across the country have been used for good on numerous occasions. “Ultimately these voter rolls should be public and we should have access to them because they provide a way for us to make sure that these records are being maintained properly and that they’re accurate from year to year,” Silverman said. “That type of transparency allows citizens to go into the rolls to make sure that those who are registered didn’t pass away or live where they say they live.” He said removing portions of birthdates would make it difficult to distinguish between people who have the same name, and that the birthdays can be useful in analyzing population trends and how communities are voting and registering. “I haven’t seen much, if any, evidence to support this fear that people’s privacy will be infringed,” Silverman said.

How Did a Biogen Event Turn Into a Covid-19 Outbreak? | Boston Business Journal 8.25.20

“Unlike other states, here Massachusetts, we can pinpoint a location where the outbreak began: Biogen. That’s where it began. To not have all of the information disclosed … it’s inconceivable,” said Justin Silverman, the director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “Without knowing what procedures could be approved upon, we’re doing ourselves a disservice moving into the fall and into the winter flu-season.” Massachusetts is not the only state lacking transparency with Covid-19-related records. The coalition has joined forces with news outlets and other organizations in Maine to push for the release of specific municipal case data. “Some states have responded better than others,” Silverman said.

Schools Cite Privacy Laws to Withhold Info About COVID-19 Cases | USA Today 8.9.20

Legal experts and government transparency advocates say schools, as a whole, have a long track record of abusing privacy laws to keep information secret and force the public to enter costly lawsuits to gain access to records. Justin Silverman, who leads the New England First Amendment Coalition, said several states also had cited HIPAA as a reason for withholding coronavirus case counts at nursing homes, although many later reversed course and released that information.

It’s Time to End the Legislative Exemption to the State’s Public Records Law | WGBH 7.16.20

Yet 46 state legislatures somehow manage to conduct business without such secrecy provisions. As Friedman’s sparring partner, Justin Silverman, argued, “These types of records are used by community watchdogs, journalists, and concerned citizens throughout the country to keep their legislators accountable.” Silverman added that with the COVID-19 pandemic reducing access to government officials, being able to obtain records is more important than ever.

The Legislature Should Be Subject to the Public Records Law (Op/Ed) | The Boston Globe 6.25.20

The exemption of these records in Massachusetts is a significant burden on citizens, especially during a time of crisis. Various states are now convening legislative committees to address the challenges of reopening economies, paying for COVID-19-related expenses and ensuring public access to ballot boxes. Massachusetts lawmakers are having similar conversations, but they’re discussing these profoundly important questions without the transparency our public records law requires of other governmental bodies.

SVSU’s Limits on Banner Photographer Raise Concerns | Bennington Banner 6.17.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said journalists deserve fair access to events, even with the threat of COVID-19. “No local officials, whether they’re representatives or working for the school, should be hiding behind COVID guidelines to infringe upon the rights of the press to cover a newsworthy event like a graduation,” he said, “and they certainly shouldn’t be playing favorites and allowing better access to some media outlets than they’re giving to others.”

Which Local Police Have Released Their Use-of-Force Policies? | Keene Sentinel 6.17.20

“Especially now, police departments should be eager to get these policies in the hands of the public, so citizens will know their police officers are acting reasonably,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a transparency advocacy group.

Raimondo Admin Issues $3,900 Bill for Public Records Request | GoLocalProv 6.11.20

In the letter from the seven groups challenged the Raimondo administration’s rationale and repeated extension of her Executive Order. . . . The groups signing the letter were ACCESS/RI, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, New England First Amendment Coalition, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Press Association and the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association.

Find Ways to Improve Remote Access (Op/Ed) | Hearst Connecticut 6.1.20

While some officials have kept their deliberations secret despite new open meeting law requirements, most of the continued secrecy seems to exist despite good faith efforts to provide citizens the access they need. Still, with government asking citizens to make personal and professional sacrifices to help flatten the curve, the public trust that comes with transparency must be preserved regardless of intentions. However difficult it may be to host public meetings online, citizens must demand that they have sufficient access and oversight. By looking for ways to better facilitate public participation, we can use this pandemic as an opportunity — one that will set the groundwork for more access and a higher standard of transparency moving forward.

As State’s Courts Stay Closed, Questions on Public Access Arise | Telegram & Gazette 5.30.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said clearly the courts have many issues to sort through as they try to work through the many issues inherent in functioning remotely. Silverman, whose organization defends and promotes public access to government, said most of his focus recently has been on public records law concerns, not court access. “That said, it is a concern, because in times of crisis, transparency is needed even more,” he said. Silverman said while a balance clearly needs to be struck between public safety and access, that balance should continue to shift toward access as more and more segments of society reopen. “To have the courts shut down and not provide the same level of access they normally do for an extended period of time is really a danger to the public’s right to know,” he said.

Groups Call on Raimondo to Repeal Executive Order Delaying Access | GoLocalProv 5.28.20

The groups signing the letter were ACCESS/RI, American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, New England First Amendment Coalition, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Press Association and the Rhode Island Broadcasters Association.

Maine News Outlets Team Up to Demand Localized COVID-19 Data | Portland Press Herald 5.27.20

The New England First Amendment Coalition has coordinated with a group of news organizations in Maine to jointly demand the release of localized COVID-19 case data from the state government. Maine is the only New England state that has declined to provide data about COVID-19 cases on a town-by-town basis. The coalition said Wednesday in a news release that it and and other open government advocates wrote to Gov. Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on April 27 explaining the public interest in releasing the data.

Maine CDC Says It Will Release More Detailed Virus Case Data | Bangor Daily News 5.27.20

The New England First Amendment Coalition on Wednesday followed with a request of its own for town-by-town data, which was coordinated with other Maine news organizations, including the BDN, the Portland Press Herald and its sister papers.

It’s Back to Class: Here’s a Tip for Some Good Content | Union Leader 5.3.20

NEFAC is providing educators throughout the six-state region with distance-learning speakers on a variety of subjects. Executive director Justin Silverman says the coalition can work with teachers of all levels — grade school through college graduate programs — to develop presentations addressing civics, journalism, freedom of information laws and other aspects of democracy and the First Amendment.

COVID-19 is Threatening Press Freedoms Abroad. Could It Happen Here, Too? | WGBH 4.29.20

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently urged that local officials delay crucial decisions until in-person meetings can be resumed, saying, “Government bodies should not opportunistically take advantage of the public’s inability to attend large gatherings to make critical decisions affecting the public’s interest if those decisions can reasonably be postponed.”

COVID Slows the Flow of Public Information | Monadnock Ledger-Transcript 4.28.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said there is real worry among journalists that some state agencies will use the crisis to create a new, less transparent normal. “Our concern is that public agencies are going to use the pandemic as an excuse to be more secretive than they actually were,” Silverman said, The fear is that the slow, delayed, and or denied requests will set expectations for transparent and open access to government information. “There’s a lot of opportunity there for the public to be shut out and secrecy to be increased across the board,” Silverman said.

FOI Groups Urge Public Access to COVID-19 Data | Machias Valley News Observer 4.28.20

“By not making town-by-town (or zip code-by-zip code) information public, Maine is out of step with the more transparent approach taken by every other New England state,” read the letter, which was signed by Preti-Flaherty attorney Sigmund D. Schutz on behalf of the MFOIC, which includes the Maine Press Association, Maine Association of Broadcasters, Maine Library Association, Society of Professional Journalists, Maine Real Estate Managers Association, Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, League of Women Voters and New England First Amendment Coalition.

‘Reopen CT’ Group Should Be Transparent | Hearst Connecticut 4.27.20

“We can’t lower our expectations because things might be harder right now,” said Justin Silverman, executive director for the New England First Amendment Coalition. “The public needs to be able to oversee who is in on the conversation, what they are saying and why they are making the decisions that they are … to have any of these conversations occurring in secret without any kind of public oversight would really be to the great detriment of the public.”

Towns Move the Public Sphere Online | The Commons 4.8.20

On behalf of the VPA and NEFAC, Donoghue said that it is necessary for taxpayers to have access to information about town business — in this case, minutes — quickly so they can make “proper, legitimate, and timely decisions.” Donoghue hopes that, with more people staying home, they use the opportunity to learn more about how their community works. This is a great time to become active in local government, he said.

Growing Pains: Virtual Meetings Show Learning Curve for Local Boards | The Salem News 4.7.20

But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and an Open Meeting Law heavily modified by executive order, technological barriers like that seen Monday night represent a learning curve faced by public leaders, according to Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “Because there’s such a learning curve in most cases, and the public is still being shut out of meetings, these officials should be doing everything they can to mitigate the damage from that secrecy and go above and beyond the requirements of Open Meeting Law,” he said.

Massachusetts Won’t Release Town-Specific COVID-19 Data | MassLive 4.7.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the state ought to be sharing more specific information with municipalities so that residents can better understand how the virus is affecting communities at large. “Transparency during this pandemic is crucial,” he said. “We need to have timely information about the coronavirus so we can make the best decisions about keeping ourselves and our families safe. Without knowing how many cases of the virus are in our towns, it’s difficult if not impossible to assess the threat.”

Raimondo Says In-Person Proms, Graduations ‘Really Unlikely’ | WJAR 4.2.20

But while Raimondo fielded questions from kids, she did not make any new policy announcements, nor did she answer questions from news reporters. The New England First Amendment Coalition, a non-profit organization that advocates for journalists, issued a statement. A spokesman noted that “whether in person or remotely, journalists need to be able to meaningfully engage with the governor,” including having the option of asking follow-up questions, “which can lead to more clarity and understanding of how the state is responding to the pandemic.” The NEFAC added that while Raimondo “no doubt has a difficult job managing this crisis while keeping herself and staff safe, that doesn’t preclude her from providing a sufficient forum to the press and the time necessary to answer all the questions that need to be asked.”

What Types of Force Can KPD Use? City Won’t Say | The Keene Sentinel 3.21.20

It’s hard for the public to assess such claims when key parts of the relevant policy are kept hidden, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a transparency advocacy group. “It’s really difficult to know if police are acting reasonably when it comes to the use of force if we don’t know what their policies are,” he said.

T&G Still Pursuing Police IAD Records in Court | Telegram & Gazette 3.20.20

“You know there’s an issue when the Massachusetts State Police is being more transparent than you,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman, whose organization defends and promotes public access to government, said internal affairs reports are crucial to the public’s understanding of whether officers who commit misconduct are being held accountable. “It’s all about the trust that we as citizens can have of our law enforcement, and without knowing of allegations of misconduct and how departments are responding, it’s very difficult to maintain that trust,” Silverman said. Silverman said departments withholding information is common – a dynamic that leaves people wondering about whether they are adequately policing themselves. If an officer committed misconduct, the public deserves to know, Silverman said, and if they did not, it would only seem beneficial to everyone to let the public know the conclusion was reached after a thorough process.

Transparency in Government is Essential During the Coronavirus (Op/Ed) | The Boston Globe 3.20.20

Timely and accurate information about government is crucial to maintaining trust during a crisis. We can’t trust our public institutions unless we know what they’re doing on our behalf. When authorities provide guidance on how to flatten the curve, for example, we need to know the facts supporting their remarks. When difficult decisions are made about medical care or restricting civil liberties, we need to know how and why these decisions were made. Only through that transparency can we trust that government is responding appropriately.

Keeping the Light On – During Sunshine Week and Always (Op/Ed) | Concord Monitor 3.18.20

Whether through whistleblowers like Kois or the use of state and federal freedom of information laws, knowing about our government is crucial to maintaining trust in public institutions. This trust is essential to our democracy and increasingly, given the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, our safety. When government authorities provide guidance on how to slow the spread of the virus, for example, we need to know the facts and data supporting their remarks. When difficult decisions are made regarding medical care or the curtailment of civil liberties, we ultimately need to know how these decisions were made and why. Only through this transparency can we understand for ourselves if government is acting in our best interest.

Advocates Decry Raimondo Order to Suspend RI Open Meeting Law Amid COVID-19 | WPRI 3.17.20

The provision did not sit well with New England First Amendment Coalition executive director Justin Silverman, who said it’s reasonable to allow public officials more flexibility during the coronavirus pandemic, “but there still must be citizen participation and oversight.” “This order makes it too easy for officials to evade transparency,” Silverman said. “As the governor said herself in the order, there are low-cost options available that allow public participation for meetings held remotely. Municipalities should be required to use them.” … Silverman, who advocates for open and transparent government across New England, raised additional concerns with the APRA changes, saying that any exception to the open meeting and public records laws must be offset by efforts elsewhere to maintain trust between citizens and their government. “In times of crisis, trust in our government is paramount,” Silverman said. “That trust won’t survive if we continue to chip away at our transparency laws without also mandating new safeguards for the public’s right to know.”

From Crashes to Arrests, Information in Worcester Harder to Come By | Telegram & Gazette 3.14.20

“You’re making the whole system more efficient and relieving some of the burden of public record requests from your own system,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman, whose organization defends and promotes public access to government, said he would expect Worcester, at a minimum, to be posting its arrest records online. “Worcester is a major city that we should expect these things from,” he said. “In fact, we should expect police logs to be posted online for every municipality.

Sunshine Week Forum: Your Right To Public Records, Open Meetings is Evolving | InDepthNH 3.11.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, also met with members of the audience before and after the forum. NEFAC is a non-partisan non-profit organization that protects the five freedoms of the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition provides presentations in community centers, on campuses and in classrooms; hosts public workshops and clinics on freedom of information laws; trains journalists on the latest investigative techniques; and appears in court to defend the First Amendment rights of New Englanders.

‘Selective Reporting’ Bill Pulled After First Amendment Advocates Speak Out | NBC 10 3.5.20

The New England First Amendment Coalition vehemently opposed the legislation and issued the following statement: This bill is unwise and unconstitutional. The First Amendment prevents the government from taking over the editorial function of a newsroom and dictating how public issues are covered. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in very clear terms, a responsible press is a desirable goal but press responsibility, like many other virtues, cannot be legislated. And for good reason. This type of legislation would turn newsrooms into an arm of the judicial system and ultimately discourage crime reporting altogether for fear of liability.

RI Lawmakers Put Forward Bill to Punish News Outlets Over Reporting | WPRI 3.5.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, called the bill “unwise and unconstitutional.” “The First Amendment prevents government from taking over the editorial function of a newsroom and dictating how public issues are covered,” he said in a statement. “As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in very clear terms, a responsible press is a desirable goal but press responsibility, like many other virtues, cannot be legislated. And for good reason.” “This type of legislation would turn newsrooms into an arm of the judicial system and ultimately discourage crime reporting altogether for fear of liability,” he said.

Transparency Forum to Highlight Government Efforts to Conceal Info | The Telegraph 2.22.20

Every year, we in the media honor Sunshine Week to celebrate access to public information in our democracy and what it means to you and your community. For this event, the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, Nashua Community College and the New England First Amendment Coalition will co-sponsor “How Transparent is NH Government and Why It Matters” at the college in Room 150.

R.I. High Court Refuses to Disclose 38 Studios Grand-Jury Records | Providence Journal 2.18.20

The state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union — which joined Common Cause Rhode Island, the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Rhode Island Press Association in arguing transparency should outweigh secrecy — also expressed disappointment.

Recess: When Students Write the Curricula on Transforming Education | The Berkshire Eagle 2.17.20

Now a high school graduate, Cook was on her way to joining some of her fellow plaintiffs and student advocates in receiving the New England First Amendment Coalition’s 2020 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award. The honor is given “to New Englanders who have fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or what its government is doing — or not doing — on its behalf.”

Some Practical Arguments for the Free Press | Providence Journal 2.15.20

Today, now known as A.G. Sulzberger, that young reporter is the 39-year-old publisher of his family’s newspaper, The New York Times. And there was a packed room of journalists in Boston on Feb. 7 when he received the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award — named after The Journal’s late publisher — from the New England First Amendment Coalition.

Concerns Raised About Proposed Limits on Vital Documents | Telegram & Gazette 2.15.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit organization that defends and promotes public access to government, was also scratching his head as to why this proposal surfaced. “It seems like a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” he said. Silverman said the Baker administration’s argument that the measure is needed to bring Massachusetts in line with other states’ practices didn’t hold up. “There should be some reason — some evidence,” he said. Baker’s proposal “shows unwarranted concern for individual records and a complete dismissal for public interest that exists,” said Silverman. For journalists and others keeping an eye on government, he said, being able to see those documents is important to get a better understanding of what’s going on in our communities, and why.

Rhode Island Students Take Fight for Civic Education to Courts | The Brown Daily Herald 2.10.20

A group of Rhode Island students won an award for using their civic understanding to fight for civics education. The student activists, who are fighting for civic education in public schools, received the New England First Amendment Coalition’s 2020 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award at NEFAC’s 10th annual awards luncheon in Boston Friday.

How to Save Journalism | The Boston Globe 2.11.20

The press should stop talking about the First Amendment as an abstraction. Instead, it should make powerful, practical arguments rooted in the lives of people and communities. New York Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger received the New England First Amendment Coalition’s 2020 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award on Feb. 7. The following is an excerpt of the remarks he delivered.

Rhode Island Students Take Fight for Civic Education to Courts | The Brown Daily Herald 2.10.20

A group of Rhode Island students won an award for using their civic understanding to fight for civics education. The student activists, who are fighting for civic education in public schools, received the New England First Amendment Coalition’s 2020 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award at NEFAC’s 10th annual awards luncheon in Boston Friday.

A. G. Sulzberger Receives NEFAC’s 2020 Hamblett Award | The New York Times 2.7.20

A. G. Sulzberger received the New England First Amendment Coalition’s 2020 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award. You can read his remarks from Friday’s event here.

Hearst CT Given FOI Award for Boys, Girls Club Probe | New Haven Register 2.7.20

The New England First Amendment Coalition Friday honored Hearst Connecticut Media with its 2020 Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award for stories on sexual abuse cases tied to Boys & Girls Clubs across the country. The FOI Award is presented annually to New England journalists who protect or advance the public’s right to know under federal or state law.

First Amendment Group Recognizes R.I. Student Activists | The Providence Journal 2.7.20

Rhode Island student activists Aleita Cook, Nancy Xiong, Melly Sok, Symone Burrell, and Brian Aun accepted the New England First Amendment Coalition’s Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award on Friday during an awards ceremony in Boston. At the same event, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger received the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award.

Public Records Should Stay Open | The Eagle-Tribune 2.5.20

“Sealing off these records for such a long period of time doesn’t seem to be in the public’s interest,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “Access to these records is important, and the state shouldn’t be restricting it.”

Proposal Raises Freedom of Information Questions (video) | WCVB 1.31.20

First Amendment advocates and those pushing for more government transparency, however, argue that these records have several legitimate public uses that would be curtailed if these limits are imposed. For example, researchers can use the information to study health trends or trace family history. Additionally, they say that investigators and reporters may use the information to confirm identities or report information that is in the public interest. The New England First Amendment Coalition said it hopes lawmakers reject the proposal.

Baker Wants Birth, Death Records Secret in Most Cases | The Boston Globe 1.30.20

Baker’s proposal doesn’t seek to specifically change public records statute, but “we’re dealing with withholding individual certificates and records, which relative to that ruling, strikes me as even more concerning,” said Justin Silverman, the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “There certainly are privacy considerations, but I would rather see those considerations made on a case-by-case basis rather than have a law that wholesale exempts all of these records from disclosure,” he said. Plus, he added, “Why do it now?”

Baker Seeks to Close Off Vital Records | The Eagle-Tribune 1.30.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, called the governor’s proposal “excessive.” “Sealing off these records for such a long period of time doesn’t seem to be in the public’s interest,” he said. “Access to these records is important, and the state shouldn’t be restricting it.”

Northfield Denies Public Records Request | Times Argus 1.30.20

Justin Silverman is an attorney based out of Massachusetts and the executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition. Silverman said the public needs to know why and how a police officer is involved in a crash. He said there may be some parts of the investigation that are exempt from being public, but not all of it. “You have a police officer who was found to be at fault for the crash. All the more reason that we should have details about the investigation to make sure that police officer was held accountable as any other citizen would be if they were involved in a similar crash,” he said.

Hearst CT Wins New England FOI Award | New Haven Register 1.22.20

The New England First Amendment Coalition will honor Hearst Connecticut Media with its 2020 Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award for its project on sexual abuse cases tied to Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, the organization announced Wednesday.The FOI Award is presented annually to New England journalists who protect or advance the public’s right to know under federal or state law. A committee of First Amendment Coalition board members chooses the FOI Award recipient based solely on merit, the organization said in a release.

Move to Handcuff News Outlets is Unconstitutional | The Eagle Tribune 1.18.20

Wesley was ruling in a Connecticut case involving news organizations that did not delete items about a woman’s arrest once the charge was dropped. News organizations had no obligation to do so, he found, noting that the information was accurate at the time it appeared. His decision was quoted by the New England First Amendment Coalition in a letter to lawmakers arguing against Flanagan’s bill.

DA’s Office Whistleblower Resigns Over Public Records Issues | The Berkshire Eagle 1.17.20

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said it would be “simply inexcusable” for public officials to attempt to abuse the public records law and its exemptions. “Falsely claiming an investigation is ongoing as a way to keep records secret violates the law and our trust in public officials,” he said. “When officials abuse the investigatory exemption of the public records law, they prevent us from learning if justice is being served in our communities. They also weaken the credibility of those who will use the exemption to protect actual investigations in the future.”

SJC Ruling Benefits Press, Readers | The Berkshire Eagle 1.3.20

Warning of the dangers that would follow should the lawsuit be upheld, the New England First Amendment Coalition, joined by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others, stated in an amicus brief that “Massachusetts journalists will no longer be able to report information contained in police blotters, a reliable and frequent source for news coverage about something that is of the utmost public importance — crime. This will necessarily have a chilling effect on the press’s ability to report official government information, to the detriment of an informed public.”