Freedom of Information Act

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Balancing the right to know and privacy rights in the computer age.

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Freedom of Information Act

  1. 1. Freedom of Information Act Balancing the right to know and privacy rights in the computer age
  2. 2. FOIA passed in 1966Rumsfeld (right, with Cheney) was a big supporterof FOIA as a young congressman
  3. 3. Provisions of FOIA• Applies to entire executive branch of the federal government
  4. 4. Provisions of FOIA• Applies to entire executive branch of the federal government• Does not apply to the president or his immediate staff
  5. 5. Provisions of FOIA• Applies to entire executive branch of the federal government• Does not apply to the president or his immediate staff• Does not apply to Congress or the judiciary
  6. 6. Exemptions1. National security
  7. 7. Exemptions3. Laws that forbid the release of certaininformation, such as tax returns
  8. 8. Exemptions5. Internal agency memos and policydiscussions
  9. 9. Exemptions6. Personal privacy
  10. 10. Exemptions7. Information compiled for law-enforcement purposes
  11. 11. Exemptions7. Information compiled for law-enforcement purposes 7(c) “… only to the extent that the production of such *materials+ … could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
  12. 12. Using FOIA• First, try the informal route• Good examples near end of Chapter 6• FOIA letter-generator is at: – www.rcfp.org/foi_letter/generate.php
  13. 13. Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee (1989)• Shows how computers have changed attitudes regarding public records
  14. 14. Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee (1989)• Shows how computers have changed attitudes regarding public records• In 1978 Robert Schakne of CBS News sought rap sheets of Medico family, tied to a corrupt Pennsylvania congressman, Daniel Flood
  15. 15. Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee (1989)• Shows how computers have changed attitudes regarding public records• In 1978 Robert Schakne of CBS News sought rap sheets of Medico family, tied to a corrupt Pennsylvania congressman, Daniel Flood• Department of Justice said “no”
  16. 16. Judge Laurence Silberman• Public records should be available to the public
  17. 17. Judge Laurence Silberman• Public records should be available to the public• Must assume it’s for the public good
  18. 18. Judge Laurence Silberman• Public records should be available to the public• Must assume it’s for the public good• FOIA is for everyone, not just the press
  19. 19. Justice John Paul Stevens • Reverses Silberman, finds that not all public records must be disclosed
  20. 20. Justice John Paul Stevens • Reverses Silberman, finds that not all public records must be disclosed • Vote is 9-0
  21. 21. Justice John Paul Stevens • Reverses Silberman, finds that not all public records must be disclosed • Vote is 9-0 • Makes two key findings
  22. 22. Invasion of privacy• Just because rap sheets are public records doesn’t mean they’re easily available
  23. 23. Invasion of privacy• Just because rap sheets are public records doesn’t mean they’re easily available• Reporters Committee takes “a cramped notion of personal privacy”
  24. 24. Invasion of privacy• Just because rap sheets are public records doesn’t mean they’re easily available• Reporters Committee takes “a cramped notion of personal privacy”• “Vast difference” between scattered records and a computerized compilation
  25. 25. An unwarranted invasion of privacy• What is the purpose of the FOIA?
  26. 26. An unwarranted invasion of privacy• What is the purpose of the FOIA?• An invasion of privacy may be warranted if it sheds light on the actions of the government
  27. 27. An unwarranted invasion of privacy• What is the purpose of the FOIA?• An invasion of privacy may be warranted if it sheds light on the actions of the government• An invasion of privacy is unwarranted if it merely sheds light on the actions of an individual
  28. 28. Jane Kirtley of RCFP• “It says that today something may be a public document but tomorrow it’s not because it’s on a computer tape”• ACLU on the other side
  29. 29. Miller v. NBC (1986)• An access case and a privacy case
  30. 30. Miller v. NBC (1986)• An access case and a privacy case• Television crew accompanied rescue workers and shot footage of Dave Miller as he lay dying on the floor
  31. 31. Miller v. NBC (1986)• An access case and a privacy case• Television crew accompanied rescue workers and shot footage of Dave Miller as he lay dying on the floor• California Court of Appeal more offended by trespass than broadcast
  32. 32. Miller v. NBC (1986)• An access case and a privacy case• Television crew accompanied rescue workers and shot footage of Dave Miller as he lay dying on the floor• California Court of Appeal more offended by trespass than broadcast• Strong protection for publication; weak protection for newsgathering. Why?
  33. 33. Houchins v. KQED (1978)• Television station sues for access to jail following an inmate suicide
  34. 34. Houchins v. KQED (1978)• Television station sues for access to jail following an inmate suicide• KQED cites Branzburg’s suggestion that newsgathering has some protection
  35. 35. Houchins v. KQED (1978)• Television station sues for access to jail following an inmate suicide• KQED cites Branzburg’s suggestion that newsgathering has some protection• U.S. Supreme Court rules against KQED
  36. 36. Houchins v. KQED (1978)• Television station sues for access to jail following an inmate suicide• KQED cites Branzburg’s suggestion that newsgathering has some protection• U.S. Supreme Court rules against KQED• Is this surprising in light of California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford?

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