By Anne Galloway, founder and editor, VTDigger
MONTPELIER, Vt. – The press corps and the Vermont chapter of the ACLU scored a major victory in the Vermont Legislature last week. Lawmakers approved a change in the public records law that gives citizens access to records associated with police investigations of criminal activity. Gov. Peter Shumlin supported opening police records to public scrutiny, and he is expected to sign the legislation into law this month.
The change in legislation is the result of several high-profile media lawsuits against local law enforcement, including the Wayne Burwell case, and an advocacy campaign spearheaded by the Vermont ACLU that was supported by WCAX, VTDigger and other local news outlets.
Burwell was beaten, pepper sprayed, handcuffed and dragged out of his home by the Hartford Police Department in May 2010. When law enforcement officials realized their mistake, they let him go. Three news outlets sought police records from the incident, The Associated Press, the Valley News and VTDigger. The requests were all rejected on the grounds that the Burwell was still under investigation.
VTDigger and the Vermont ACLU sued. The case eventually went to the Vermont Supreme Court and last summer the justices ruled that all of the records collected in connection with the detention of Burwell be released. Because Burwell was not technically arrested, the ruling applied only to records created before an arrest. Continue reading ‘Vt. Legislature gives public access to police investigation records’ »
By Steven Brown, executive director of ACLU of Rhode Island
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Unfortunately, it’s now official. The public’s right-to-know is not “basic to the maintenance or well-being of the Union.”
That is the essence of an April 29 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of a provision in Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act which guarantees access to public records to in-state residents only. Continue reading ‘High Court says public’s right-to-know not basic to the “well-being of the Union”’ »
By Joseph W. McQuaid, publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News
MANCHESTER, N.H. – When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced nationally that it had arrested and was holding many illegal immigrants, New Hampshire’s statewide newspaper naturally wanted to know the identities of those arrested and details of the arrests made in the Granite State.
We were nonplussed by the government’s response: No. We don’t like to sue our government, especially for information we believe the public is entitled to.
We were further astounded by the court’s ruling and its rationale. The ruling seems to say that people who enter the country illegally and commit further crimes here are entitled to a level of privacy that is greater than that accorded citizens.
It ought to go without saying that the public has a general right to know the identities of people arrested by the federal government, except in cases when the government can prove in court that there is a pressing national security justification for keeping the names secret. Instead, the government can make secret arrests as a matter of general policy.
ICE did exactly that here in 2011. The agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, arrested six people it said were convicted criminal aliens. It issued a press release boasting of the arrests. But it refused to release the names.
This newspaper sued to get the names, and on April 18 a federal judge ruled that the government did not have to release them. That is disappointing and disconcerting. Continue reading ‘Request for IDs of ICE detainees rejected by court, Union Leader ponders next move’ »
By Judith Meyer, managing editor, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
On April 25, Maine joined at least 25 other states in making concealed-carry permits confidential governmental records.
The very next day, Gov. Paul LePage signed the controversial Freedom of Access Act exception into law. Concealed-carry permits are now the only state-required, state-issued, state-managed and state-enforced permit issued for personal use in Maine.
In addition to this new public records exception, the emergency law also requires the Department of Public Safety to create a central database of concealed carry permit holders for use by law enforcement, which is a shift from record keeping of the past, where records were maintained by the issuing authorities in various municipalities.
The decision swaying votes in both the House and Senate to conceal the concealed carry permits was based, in large part, on the number of people who testified at the public hearing on the bill. There were 32, a vast majority of whom were in support of confidentiality.
While the lopsided testimony was impressive if we just look at the numbers, if we look at the content of much of that testimony the strength of the testimony quickly fades. Continue reading ‘Maine makes info on concealed gun permits secret’ »