By Julie McCaffrey and Tommy Nguyen
ST. LOUIS, MO – In support of the appeal filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing RCFP has standing to sue to access materials related to the Stored Communications Act (SCA) sealed by a federal district court.
The federal district court denied the RCFP’s appeal, which contradicts the First Amendment and the broad ability of organizations and the public to petition for the unsealing of certain court records, the ACLU and EFF said in a joint statement.
“The federal district court’s decision that RCFP lacks such standing — and to keep this vital information under seal — contradicts decades of First Amendment and common law broadly granting organizations and the public the right to petition for unsealing,” the ACLU said.
The groups noted that while SCA gives the government the right to access information, including but not limited to, the content of a subscriber’s electronic communications, attainable via a warrant, it is unclear why SCA warrants and court records remain sealed.
In 2022, the Minnesota District Court denied RCFP’s request to unseal information, citing the RCFP does not have imminent intent to inspect the sealed materials,
The ACLU and EFF disagree with the court, as noted in their petition.
“The Reporters Committee’s unsealing petition is a prime example of how secrecy can frustrate the public’s ability to even learn about the existence of certain judicial records, in this case, law enforcement requests for court authorization to engage in surveillance or to obtain people’s private data,” the brief reads.
The ACLU/EFF petition adds, when judicial records include court authorized surveillance or gathering of people’s private data, “Keeping this information under seal implicates people’s free speech and privacy rights, both in the physical world and digitally.” In this case, the judicial records include court authorized surveillance or gathering of people’s private data.
The ACLU noted, “In most places, the press and public have no way of knowing how many SCA warrants the government applies for, what kinds of records it’s seeking, what information the government presented to support its warrant applications, and how many of the applications are granted or denied.”