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Category Archives: Freedom of Information

Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of Practical Obscurity

Ardia, David S., Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of Practical Obscurity (August 4, 2017). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2017, No. 5, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3013704

“Court records present a conundrum for privacy advocates. Public access to the courts has long been a fundamental tenant of American democracy, helping to ensure that our system of justice functions fairly and that citizens can observe the actions of their government. Yet court records contain an astonishing amount of private and sensitive information, ranging from social security numbers to the names of sexual assault victims. Until recently, the privacy harms that attended the public disclosure of court records were generally regarded as insignificant because court files were difficult to search and access. But this “practical obscurity” is rapidly disappearing as the courts move from the paper-based world of the twentieth century to an interconnected, electronic world where physical and temporal barriers to information are eroding. These changes are prompting courts — and increasingly, legislatures — to reconsider public access to court records. Although this reexamination can be beneficial, a number of courts are abandoning the careful balancing of interests that has traditionally guided judges in access disputes and instead are excluding whole categories of information, documents, and cases from public access. This approach, while superficially appealing, is contrary to established First Amendment principles that require case-specific analysis before access can be restricted and is putting at risk the public’s ability to observe the functioning of the courts and justice system. This article pushes back against the categorical exclusion of information in court records. In doing so, it makes three core claims. First, the First Amendment provides a qualified right of public access to all court records that are material to a court’s exercise of its adjudicatory power. Second, before a court can restrict public access, it must engage in a case-specific evaluation of the privacy and public access interests at stake. Third, per se categorical restrictions on public access are not permissible. These conclusions do not leave the courts powerless to protect privacy, as some scholars assert. We must discard the notion that the protection of privacy is exclusively the job of judges and court staff. Instead, we need to shift the responsibility for protecting privacy to lawyers and litigants, who should not be permitted to include highly sensitive information in court files if it is not relevant to the case. Of course, we cannot eliminate all private and sensitive information from court records, but as long as courts continue to provide physical access to their records, the First Amendment does not preclude court administrators from managing electronic access in order to retain some of the beneficial aspects of practical obscurity. By minimizing the inclusion of unnecessary personal information in court files and by limiting the extent of electronic access to certain types of highly sensitive information, we can protect privacy while at the same time ensuring transparency and public accountability.”

Free Law Project – We Have Every Free PACER Opinion on CourtListener.com

“At Free Law Project, we have gathered millions of court documents over the years, but it’s with distinct pride that we announce that we have now completed our biggest crawl ever. After nearly a year of work, and with support from the U.S. Department of Labor and Georgia State University, we have collected every free… Continue Reading

Removal of animal welfare data from USDA site sparks FOIA requests

Follow up to previous postings – DOJ defends USDA take-down of massive animal abuse database; Durbin Demands Trump Administration Restore Animal Cruelty; and Animal welfare information wiped from USDA website – see updated status on this matter: People who care about animal welfare are demanding information from USDA – “The Agriculture Department abruptly removed all animal… Continue Reading

Alliance for Securing Democracy – Hamilton 68: A New Tool to Track Russian Disinformation on Twitter

“The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan, transatlantic initiative housed at The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. The Alliance will work to publicly document and expose Vladimir… Continue Reading

Myth of one internet has morphed into reality of the ‘splinternet’

August 4, 2017, Terry Flew: “Both The Economist and WIRED are worried about the “splinternet”. The UK research organisation NESTA thinks it could “break up” the world wide web as we know it. What is this awkwardly named idea? It’s the concept that someone’s experience of the internet in Turkey, for example, is increasingly different… Continue Reading

New website tracks press freedom violations in United States

“Today, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joins more than 20 press freedom organizations announcing the launch of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a new nonpartisan website dedicated to documenting press freedom abuses across the United States…Led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom of the Press Foundation, the website will serve… Continue Reading

Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?

Nevelow Mart, Susan. “Let the People Know the Facts: Can Government Information Removed from the Internet Be Reclaimed?”. LawArXiv, 3 May 2017. Web. “Ms. Mart examines the legal bases of the public’s right to access government information, reviews the types of information that have recently been removed from the Internet, and analyzes the rationales given… Continue Reading

Dramatic Rise in FOIA Lawsuits Filed by Nonprofit Advocacy Groups

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse: “The number of FOIA lawsuits filed by nonprofit and advocacy organizations has generally grown over the past two decades, irrespective of which political party was in office – from the George W. Bush administration, through President Obama’s eight years, and continuing during Donald Trump’s first months as president. Nonprofit groups representing… Continue Reading

National Archives Begins Online Release of JFK Assassination Records

[At 8am on July 24, 2017] “the National Archives released a group of documents (the first of several expected releases), along with 17 audio files, previously withheld in accordance with the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The materials released today are available online only.  Access to the original paper records will occur at… Continue Reading

FOIA Requests to Office of Government Ethics to date

The Office of Government Ethics has received 406 FOIA requests to date during Fiscal Year 2017. FY 17/406 Search for the status of all requests to date – https://extapps2.oge.gov/FOIAStatus/FOIAInfo.nsf/SearchByFOIANumber?OpenForm&FOIANumber= Continue Reading

Collaborative investigative report on rollback of federal regulations

The Deep Industry Ties of Trump’s Deregulation Teams – “In February, President Trump ordered federal agencies to form task forces charged with finding regulations to weaken or eliminate. While the names of appointees to executive-agency task forces are typically made public, some agencies are refusing to reveal who is on their panels. The New York… Continue Reading

Twitter vs FBI on National Security Requests for Information on Users

FindLaw – “Twitter sued the FBI and the Department of Justice to establish the company’s right to say how many national security requests it receives from the government. It is part of the company’s transparency report to tell users how often governments request their information. The government recently lost its motion for summary judgment, while… Continue Reading