Border Wall bill contains FOIA exemption for building wall, maintaining border

The revised draft of the Border Security for America Act of 2017 (H.R. 3548), to be considered by the House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as soon as today,  would shield from public scrutiny and accountability ongoing law enforcement activities along the border. The Freedom of Information Act is one of dozens of laws that would not apply to border activities, including construction and maintenance of the border wall and ongoing efforts to stop illegal border crossings. As Kevin Goldberg writes for the American Society of News Editors (an NMOG member), the impact would be broad: The public and press would [More]

Pentagon (again) seeks help from Congress to keep tactics secret

Pentagon hopes Congress will protect tactics, techniques and procedures from disclosure. Military also seeks to protect rules of engagement. Public interest in disclosure could outweigh confidentality, but military gets to decide in Pentagon’s proposal. Defense Department is hoping the third time’s the charm as it once again asks for the authority to withhold from the public certain military tactics, techniques and procedures , the disclosure of which would give an adversary an advantage. The proposal (Sec. 1003 of DoD’s draft legislation), which the Defense Department would like included in the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018, is narrower than [More]

First Amendment Panel Ranks a Free Press as Most at Risk

Reviewers for the second quarter in a row ranked freedom of the press as the most at risk in an assessment of threats to freedoms protected under the First Amendment. The reviewers, including yours truly, gave press freedom another C in the second quarterly report card issued by the Newseum Institute, the center affiliated with the Newseum in Washington, DC that promotes the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Reviewers cited physical assaults on reporters and calls for prosecutions of journalists among other threats to journalists. Threats on journalists appear to be clearly on the minds of the American public. [More]

Newseum Institute survey: Public values independent press, concerned about leaks

Newseum Institute’s State of the First Amendment report A Newseum Institute survey on public attitudes toward the First Amendment shows the public still strongly and consistently supports the freedoms of the First Amendment. The survey found two-thirds of respondents (67.7%) agreed “the media should act as a watchdog of the government.” The percentage of respondents agreeing that the news media reports without bias nearly doubled to 43.1% from a year ago. Other results on topics of interest to the coalition: Unauthorized disclosures (“Leaks”). Respondents were not swayed that prosecutors should weigh the public interest from a disclosure when deciding to [More]

Daily Press Briefings are an important exercise in self-governance

Diminishing or eliminating the daily White House Press Briefing is a big mistake. In my childhood hometown, the longtime daily newspaper sits along one side of a wide open space that has been the home to civic protest, celebrations, food festivals and relaxed family picnics. Along another side of the town square sits another building of equal architectural and community significance, City Hall. The physical proximity of the newspaper and the seat of local government makes the greenspace a gathering point, a place where people from around the community exercise their First Amendment rights. The resulting civic-mindedness helps define the [More]

White House photographs should be taken by impartial ‘visual journalists’

This is another reminder that if you let someone take a selfie with you, you should expect to see it online. Yesterday, on May 10, President Donald Trump met in the Oval Office with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister and allowed the Russian news agency TASS to photograph the event while denying access to American press. Unnamed sources within the White House later said they felt “tricked” and that they did not believe TASS would release the photographs, according to CNN. Press coverage is, and should be, daily at the White House, and that coverage ought to include newsgathering [More]

First Amendment Report Card: C+ for the five freedoms

The five freedoms of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution received a C+ grade from a panel of reviewers brought together by the Newseum Institute. The report card is an effort to assign a grade four times each year to each of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment. Panelists were asked to assign an individual grade to each of the freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. (Disclosure: I participated as a grader.) Read some of the grades and comments or Newseum Institute Chief Operating Officer Gene Policinski’s commentary. It’s important to remember that we were asked [More]

A FOIA Portal, Defined

In recent years groups inside and outside of government have created new tools for FOIA administration, such as iFOIA, MuckRock, and FOIA Machine. In addition, the federal government built its own FOIAonline. Local governments, too, are getting into the game. Many years ago we extolled the virtues of agencies building a system to more efficiently receive, track, process and respond to FOIA requests. And Congress included a portal requirement in legislation  in FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. FOIA Tools Inside Government FOIA.gov (built and administered by the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy) currently provides an introduction to FOIA, tutorials on [More]