New England First Amendment Coalition
June 2021
The New England First Amendment Coalition continues to grow in programming and influence because of your generous support through the years. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s the truth: the work we do every day isn’t possible without your help. 

During the last five months, we have directly addressed problems facing citizens and newsrooms in New England. Learn how.
The courses are moderated by Emily Sweeney, a reporter at The Boston Globe, who serves on the boards of both NEFAC and the Society of Professional Journalists New England.

“Public record laws are a valuable tool to help citizens learn about and engage with their government,” Sweeney said. “But they vary greatly from state to state. This series of presentations will help everyone better understand the laws in New England.” [...]
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June 30 | Vermont

July 7 | Maine
July 14 | Rhode Island

July 28 | Federal FOIA
NEFAC recently testified in support of legislation in Massachusetts that would preserve the ability of citizens to attend public meetings both remotely and in-person. 

Senate Bill 2028 and House Bill 3152 would require government agencies to provide remote access to all public meetings unless a waiver for economic hardship is granted by the state.

While NEFAC expressed concerns over the waiver process, the coalition called the legislation “a great stride toward universal access.” [...]

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Additional Coverage

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, is one of the most misunderstood laws. Government officials and the general public often incorrectly cite the 25-year-old federal statute when discussing health data. By viewing this lesson, you will learn:
The history and purpose of HIPAA.
Under what circumstances and to what types of entities HIPAA applies.
How to best respond to public record denials that are incorrectly attributed to HIPAA.

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined a group of press advocates in support of an effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a long-running case concerning public access to court documents at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, a secret body that authorizes surveillance activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. 

“[B]oth logic and experience support a qualified First Amendment right of access to opinions and orders of the FISC, including those containing novel or significant interpretations of law,” according to a May 27 amicus brief. [...]

Additional Coverage

Maddie Lamo, a media litigation fellow at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, explains the secret court system created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. RCFP filed an amicus brief on behalf of NEFAC and other media organizations. 

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently testified against changes to the Rhode Island Open Meeting Law that would allow public bodies to meet exclusively online with few in-person meeting requirements. 

“With this legislation, members of public bodies can avoid directly facing journalists and other citizens before, during and after meetings,” wrote NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman on June 14 to the House State Government and Elections Committee.  [...]

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Additional Coverage

Viktoria Sundqvist at Hearst Connecticut explains how she used the state’s public records law to gather superintendent payroll information. The conversation is part of NEFAC’s First Amendment and Free Press program where the newsroom curtain is pulled back to show how journalists do their job. 

Justin Silverman, NEFAC's executive director, recently led presentations for high school journalism students from throughout the region. In separate classes, Silverman discussed open government and First Amendment law with students attending the annual New England High School Journalism Collaborative conference and the Boston University Summer Journalism Academy.

Email to schedule a speaker for your classroom or event.
Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said “the public has a right to know what is going on within its schools, whether teachers or administrators are doing what’s best for its students.”

While officials are allowed to withhold certain information, “It is clearly within the public’s right to know why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Silverman said. [...]
Portland Attorney Sig Schutz, a member of the New England First Amendment Coalition, said the ethics commission can redact the confidential information from a recording of the meeting, but it can’t keep the entire public proceeding secret.

“Just because there’s one piece of non-public information mentioned at the meeting that would not justify shutting down public access to everything else that was discussed at an otherwise public meeting,” he said. [...]
“If the public can’t afford to access that system and reap the benefits of having all these documents online, then what really is the point?” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, a Massachusetts nonprofit that defends citizen access to government. “It’s certainly not enriching the public. Maybe it’s enriching the contractor.” . . .

“When you have these electronic systems in place, there should be more access to documents,” he said. “The public should be able to more easily get the records they need and not have a more difficult time.” [...]
“We need a permanent system requiring in-person meetings while also allowing online access for citizens who cannot be in the room,” said Justin Silverman of the New England First Amendment Coalition. “It’s a matter of access and public oversight.” [...]
In Massachusetts, under public records law, agencies have a responsibility to tell the person who requested the records if anything has been redacted — and why, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition.

“The law works in a way where the requester is never — should never be — unaware that there is information missing,” he said. Without knowing there has been information redacted, Silverman said, the requester won’t have the opportunity to appeal the decision to redact, another key right protected under the public records law. If the public records law is not followed, “government will be operating in secret,” he said. [...]
New England First Amendment Coalition executive director Justin Silverman said the group welcomes the chance to expand public access to government through technology, but it “strongly opposes” many of the changes proposed in this bill. The main concern is that the bill allows all public bodies to meet exclusively online, Silverman wrote in a June 14 letter to legislators.

“With this legislation, members of these bodies can avoid directly facing journalists and other citizens before, during, and after meetings,” he wrote. “This legislation prevents that accessibility — and the accountability that comes with public access and oversight.” [...]

Regional / National

Gov't Seizure of Journalist Records

Student Speech




Judicial Records Access

Vanity Plates, Free Speech


Police Records


New Hampshire

Police Records, 'Laurie List'

Education, 'Divisive Concepts'


Rhode Island

'High Volume' Public Records Requests