Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

FOI Daily Dose: More sunshine in Florida, NY shield law saves reporter from testifying

More Sunshine in the Sunshine State

There’s a little more sunshine in the Sunshine State after the 2013 legislative session passed an unusually high number of bills supported by Florida’s First Amendment Foundation (FAF). The FAF announced June 14 that the legislature passed 10 bills they supported, including a bill three years in the making that guarantees citizens the right to speak at government meetings and a transparency bill that requires Florida’s chief financial officer to post agency contacts online.

But the battle for more open government rages on as the legislature also passed 14 bills the FAF opposed and a dozen new exemptions limiting access to public records and open meetings. The running total of exemptions is now “well over 1,000,” according to the FAF.

New York shield law saves reporter from the stand

Thanks to the strong New York shield law, a New York Times freelancer will not be forced to testify about his personal observations involving the arrest of two Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Times freelancer Colin Moynihan wrote a blog post about the Jan. 10 arrest of two protesters who refused to leave Zuccotti Park. When the protesters said they were arrested without warning, city officials subpoenaed Moynihan to determine if the arrest was wrongful, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP). They claimed Moynihan was an “unbiased” witness, unlike other bystanders who would had an allegiance with either the police or the protesters.

But U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff of New York ruled in an 8-page opinion on June 11 that a reporter’s personal observations are protected, like his notes, and a journalist cannot be forced to testify unless there are no alternative sources, according to RCFP.

Rakoff wrote: “Exempting firsthand observations from the scope of the reporter’s privilege would severely chill journalists from engaging in valuable firsthand reporting, such as performed by Moynihan here.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

Judge orders release of Occupy protester’s tweets; How Twitter and social media are furthering investigative journalism

In another foray into the ongoing social media v. privacy debates, a New York judge ordered Twitter to release tweets from a former Occupy Wall Street protester.

Malcom Harris was arrested in October 2011 — with hundreds of other protesters — and charged with disorderly conduct.  In January, prosecutors subpoenaed tweets from Harris from just before the Occupy protests through 2011. Harris’ attorney unsuccessfully tried to block the subpoena. When  Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino ruled against the attorney’s motion, Twitter tried to quash the subpoena. However, Sciarrino disagreed. Although privacy laws exist, Harris’ tweets were publicly shared and as such did not qualify for privacy protections.

“What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you.” – Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino

Bottom line:  While privacy laws protect information gathered by journalists in some cases, sharing information on a public platform like Twitter snuffs any privacy protection.

However, don’t entirely dismiss Twitter and its social media allies — Foursquare, Facebook, Flickr and others.  These platforms are expanding the role of freedom of information in unprecedented ways, reports Mashable. To name a few:

  • Reduce Reading Time: Journalists who once had to slog through thousands of documents to find relevant information can now crowdsource. In other words, they can use followers and readers to help scan documents for relevant bits of information. See how TPM Muckraker and The Guardian have utilized their readers.
  • Man on the Street: Journalists can share a Google Map to help with stories on extreme weather patterns, fires or in one instance, to help government officials locate the source of an unusual smell.
  • Investigative Teamwork: Journalists who want to investigate stories more quickly may think about following Wendy Norris’ lead. Norris set out to confirm or deny the rumor that condom purchases in Colorado had been negatively affected by their placement in stores, at the time purportedly under lock and key behind pharmacy counters.  She used Twitter to recruit members of her community to help with the investigation. Once the results were in, she used Google Maps to share the results.

Click here to learn on how you can use social media with your investigations.

Read up on federal privacy laws. Also, see how privacy laws affect student journalists.

Whitney is the summer Pulliam/Killgore intern with SPJ. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University after studying journalism. Connect with her via email – –  or on twitter – @whitevs7

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