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SPJ joins amicus brief in NYPD public records case


Sept. 10, 2015

Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360-920-1737 (PDT), dneuts@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined submitting an amicus brief with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other media organizations to a New York appeals court in the case of Abdur Rashid v. New York City Police Department, urging the court to reject the use of the Glomar doctrine.

The case was brought by a New York City imam who suspected that the New York Police Department was investigating his mosque. He filed a request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law for all NYPD records pertaining to surveillance of the mosque. The NYPD responded by stating that it “could neither confirm nor deny” whether any such records even exist. In doing so, the NYPD invoked a legal doctrine from the federal FOIA known as the “Glomar doctrine,” which allows federal agencies in some circumstances to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records. The New York trial court found that the NYPD’s response was proper, and the case is currently on appeal.

The Glomar doctrine was first created during the Cold War to shield records involving covert military operations, where even acknowledging the existence of the records was thought to jeopardize national security. The doctrine has expanded significantly at the federal level, with federal agencies now invoking it in refusing to respond to many types of FOIA requests. Glomar-type responses, however, have never been allowed at the state level under any state’s freedom-of-information law -- until now.

“If the NYPD’s Glomar response is upheld, it would weaken New York’s law and could set a precedent for other states to begin allowing their own agencies to refuse to confirm or deny the existence of government records,” said SPJ National President Dana Neuts. “This is not how the Glomar doctrine was intended to be used and would stifle media requests for public records.”

The brief explains why the doctrine is not authorized by New York’s Freedom of Information Law and why the doctrine is ill-suited to state-level requests. The brief also traces the troubling growth of the doctrine at the federal level.

The First Amendment guarantees the press and the public a right of access to criminal trials, including pretrial proceedings, and documents submitted in connection with them. In its role as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org .


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