With first Advisory Opinion, FOIA Ombud picks up vital tool to make FOIA work better

The Office of Government Information Services today issued its first advisory opinion on a FOIA matter. Today’s advisory opinion, and the many we hope will follow, is important for OGIS to help prevent and resolve disputes and make FOIA work better. The purpose of advisory opinions is to provide clear direction to agencies and requesters on how FOIA’s requirements should be interpreted to prevent future disputes, similar to the way the Office of Government Ethics makes public its advice to agencies and government employees who request OGE’s help interpreting ethics laws. Back when we were advocating for the creation of OGIS [More]

Seizing a reporter’s records is troubling; we need to know more

News Media for Open Government, a coalition of leading news media organizations defending newsgathering and press freedoms, issued the following statement regarding the disclosure last week that a reporter’s records were seized in an investigation into unauthorized disclosures. News Media for Open Government, a coalition of news media associations defending newsgathering and press freedoms, is deeply troubled by the government’s actions to seize records of a journalist. We respect the government must at times keep information from the public in the interests of national security, including to protect sources and methods or to prevent disclosure of the existence of an [More]

Coalition supports bill to protect journalists from physical attack

Statement of Rick Blum, Director, News Media for Open Government   In these deeply polarized times, the demand for credible, reliable news and information about what the government is doing in the public’s name has never been higher. Telling important stories that help citizens make informed choices for our communities and our nation is more vital than ever. Journalists certainly have thick skin, but it is clear those who inform the public are under threat. Dozens of physical assaults on journalists doing their jobs were documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in 2017. Online harassment of journalists has included [More]

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]

FIRST Principles: Working with whistleblowers and more

This is your FIRST Principles Update for October 2, 2017, by NEWS MEDIA FOR OPEN GOVERNMENT, a coalition of media associations advancing newsgathering, press freedom and open government. For more, visit foropengov.org or follow us @foropengov.   RESOURCE: WHISTLEBLOWER DEFENSE GROUP PUBLISHES GUIDE FOR JOURNALISTS Vulnerable sources inside government may not fully understand their rights, the various whistleblower channels for reporting issues internally, and potential consequence from retaliatory actions for going public. “Journalists need to understand not only the value of a whistleblower’s information but also the unique challenges and risks faced by sources who are employees,” writes Dana Gold in [More]

FIRST Principles for September 18, 2017

WHITE HOUSE ORDERS LEAKS TRAINING FOR THIS WEEK The Trump Administration has requested that federal agencies organize 1-hour training sessions sometime in the coming week on the dangers of unauthorized disclosures of classified information as well as the need to safeguard “controlled unclassified information.” BuzzFeed News’ Chris Geidner reports that on September 8, National Security Advisory H.LR. McMaster requested that all departments and agencies organize the training sometime the week of September 18-22, 2017. McMaster suggests potential training materials could include a Fox News interview with National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina or a video of Attorney General [More]

Forum on Press Freedom: What we said

On July 24, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress held a forum on press freedom to examine recent threats and attacks against the media. Much of the discussion focused on the changing landscape in the media and attacks and threats from President Trump. Congress could take several steps to strengthen freedom of the press, we argued, including enacting a shield bill to protect journalists’ sources, a law to protect free speech against abusive libel lawsuits, and more. Click here for more on the forum, including comments from veteran journalist Marvin Kalb, First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, and others.

A few things to remember about leaks

Journalists who routinely cover national security and foreign affairs topics take care to carefully consider possible harms to national security, privacy or similar interests from disclosures of information in their stories. Journalists carefully weigh government assertions of harm. There are limits to what can be classified. Executive Order 13526 makes clear that information can only be classified if protection is “required” in the interest of national security. Further, information can never be classified in order to: (1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error; (2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; (3) restrain competition; or (4) prevent [More]

In defense of leaks

The August edition of Editor and Publisher magazine includes a feature article I wrote in defense of leaks. “Leaks” often describe any unauthorized disclosure of either classified or unclassified information, and those disclosures are the basis for a great deal of daily news reporting that benefits the public interest. There have been efforts in the past to shut down “leaks,” however any efforts to curtail all leaks is misguided and harms the public’s access to reliable, accurate information about global events and the challenges facing the U.S. In the article, I argue only those disclosures that may potentially cause specific [More]

Pentagon, FOIA Ombudsman, Benefits > Costs. It’s your FIRST Principles for July 17, 2017

This is your FIRST Principles Update July 17, 2017 DEFENSE WANTS STATUTORY EXEMPTION FOR TACTICS, TECHNIQUES, PROCEDURES AND RULES OF ENGAGEMENT. The Pentagon wants to keep secret the tactics, techniques and procedures that the military teaches soldiers so adversaries are not tipped off to the military’s thinking. Understandable, sure, but we’re working to ensure we can cover the military as an organization, a workplace, and a buyer of goods and services using taxpayer dollars. Go here for more. STATE of the FIRST A. The Newseum Institute assembled a second quarterly Report Card assessing the state of the five freedoms of [More]