News

Court Strikes Down NSA Phone Surveillance Program

A federal appeals court today found that a National Security Agency (NSA) program that sweeps up logs of Americans’ phone calls is illegal because it exceeds the scope of what Congress authorized under the USA Patriot Act. It stopped short, however, of finding the program unconstitutional, USA Today reports. The court also did not order an immediate halt to the program, deferring to lawmakers. “In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” the court wrote.

read more »

Deficiencies Found in Memphis Public Records Process

A study of how Memphis fulfills public records requests has generated 23 recommendations to improve the process, the Commercial Appeal reports. A former Shelby County commissioner undertook the review at the request of the mayor. He found that deficiencies stemmed from inefficient processes, a lack of understanding of state law and a growing distrust between public records staff and government officials and local media. The recommendations include transferring public records responsibilities from the law division to the executive division and appointing a public records ombudsman and oversight committee.

read more »

Victims’ Groups Oppose Release of Rape Evidence

Four victims’ rights groups are asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to rule against a coalition of news media organizations seeking access to text messages in a high-profile rape case involving four former Vanderbilt University football players. The Times Free Press reports that the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the Tennessean Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and the Sexual Assault Centers are asking the court to consider the victims before releasing information to the media.

read more »

Government Lawyers Fight Release of Vanderbilt Rape Trial Records

State and Metro Nashville lawyers are arguing against the release of the Vanderbilt University rape case files that remain under seal. The Tennessean, eight media organizations and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government filed suit against Metro in 2013 seeking records in the hands of police, including text messages between Vanderbilt football players and coaches. The Tennessee Court of Appeals partially ruled against the media coalition, but the state Supreme Court has agreed to review the case, setting a May 28 date for oral arguments.

read more »

Steen: Bridge the Generation Gap With Clear Communication

In his Tennessee Bar Journal column about how different generations communicate, TBA President Jonathan Steen points out how important good communication skills are -- and why sending a text late at night to a senior partner may not be the best way to make contact. In the April issue's other columns, Eddy Smith covers IRA beneficiaries and creditor protection; Katy Edge explains how banking works for legal marijuana sales; and Bill Haltom comments on Justice Ginsburg’s recent nap before the president’s speech.

read more »

Judge OKs Service of Divorce Papers on Social Media

Facebook may need to add "Just got served divorce papers" to its list of relationship statuses now that a New York judge has said the social media site is an acceptable way for a woman to serve her husband with a summons for divorce, CNN reports. The judge in the case said that the “advent and ascendency of social media” means sites like Facebook and Twitter are the “next frontier” as “forums through which a summons can be delivered.”

read more »

Prosecutors Get 1st Conviction for Revenge Porn

Kevin Christopher Bollaert, the operator of a “revenge porn” website that posted nude photos of people along with personal identifying information without their consent, was sentenced to 18 years in prison last Friday. Prosecutors say it was the first criminal prosecution of a cyber-exploitation website operator in the country. In addition to allowing the posting of unauthorized images by ex-spouses and ex-lovers, Bollaert extorted money from many victims who paid to have photos removed from the site. Read more in the Business Journal.

read more »

House Panel Approves Digital Assets Bill

A state House subcommittee has approved legislation setting rules for access to digital information after death or disability, Humphrey on the Hill reports. The “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” has drawn opposition from representatives of Facebook, Google and Amazon on the grounds that it would declare company policies void if they conflict with state law. The bill gives the legal representative of a deceased or incapacitated person authority to decide how pictures and postings on a site will be disposed of, even though the user once gave the site the right to control such things. TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur said many social media sites put such provisions in the fine print of their sign-up contracts, which has led to unfortunate situations. Knoxnews has the story.

read more »

Do’s and Don’ts of New Social Media Law

Employers can't ask employees who use company technology to access personal social media accounts for their passwords, according to the Employee Online Privacy Act of 2014. The law, which went into effect the first of this year, provides clear guidelines to help employers navigate the numerous scenarios involving employees' personal Internet activity. The Tennessean outlines guidelines for adhering to the new law.

read more »

AG Asks Appeals Court to Set Aside Broadband Ruling

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery wants a federal appeals court to set aside a recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission that allows cities like Chattanooga to offer municipal broadband beyond their normal service area, Channel 9 news reports. In the filing with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Slatery said that the FCC had "unlawfully inserted itself between the state of Tennessee and the state's own subdivisions."

read more »

Opinion: Court’s Media Rule Could Lead to Less Transparency

The Knoxville News Sentinel’s editorial board has come out in opposition to a rules change being contemplated by the Tennessee Supreme Court to govern news coverage in the state’s courtrooms. While the changes are meant to update rules for the digital age, the paper argues that the proposal “would be more likely to reduce transparency” as judges would be allowed to bar laptops and smart phones if they contain camera or recording capabilities. A better approach, the paper maintains, is to regulate the activities, not the devices, of journalists.

read more »

Wikipedia Sues NSA for Surveillance Program

The Wikimedia Foundation has filed suit against the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the NSA's mass surveillance program. The suit alleges that the agency's broad monitoring of Internet traffic violates the freedoms that U.S. citizens are granted under the First and Fourth Amendments. Wikimedia, part of the popular Wikipedia free-content website, is joined by eight other organizations, and will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. WRCB has more from Digital Trends.

read more »

TSSAA Requests Exemption from Open Records Law

After losing a court fight to keep its records private, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) is asking the state legislature to exempt it from public scrutiny, the Nashville Scene reports. TSSAA is a nonprofit organization authorized by the state Board of Education to regulate state high school athletics. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, SB1225 would exempt records held by TSSAA from the public records law based on the argument that it is a voluntary association.

read more »

FCC OKs Chattanooga Broadband Expansion

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) ruled last week that Chattanooga may expand its municipal broadband service, overriding a state law blocking the city’s electric utility from expanding its super-fast Internet network beyond its current service area. Tennessee officials who oppose the decision are lining up to block the move, the Associated Press reports. On Tuesday, a group of Republican state lawmakers urged state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to challenge the decision as “a violation of state sovereignty.” Slatery said no decision has been made about next steps but expressed disappointment that the FCC decided to assert authority over a local governmental body. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

read more »

Event Features First Amendment Center Speaker

The Waller law firm is hosting an event this Thursday (Feb. 26) to celebrate journalism and journalists. Lawyers are invited to join reporters, producers, editors and publishers across Middle Tennessee to promote camaraderie and share stories and sources. The event also will feature the showing of the movie “All The President’s Men” and remarks by Gene Policinski, senior vice president at the First Amendment Center. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with a reception. The formal program will follow at 7:15 pm. at the firm’s office in Nashville. RSVP online or contact Krunali H. Parekh, (615) 850-8926 with questions.

read more »

1st Amendment Groups Want to Join Rape Records Lawsuit

Two national First Amendment groups – the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the University of Virginia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic – want to file briefs in support of a lawsuit seeking access to records in the rape case against four former Vanderbilt University football players. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the suit in May after the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the media coalition that filed the suit, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Justices Once Open to Cameras in Court Reconsider

Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, the Associated Press reports. The move dashes whatever hope there was that April’s historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised. In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court. WRCB-TV has the AP story.

read more »

Judge Seals All Vandy Rape Trial Evidence

A Nashville criminal court judge has sealed all evidence presented in the trial of two former Vanderbilt University football players, a move that open records advocates say is unprecedented in Nashville courts, the Tennessean reports. It is the third ruling in the case prohibiting increasingly more information from public disclosure. The newest order says it is “reasonable and appropriate” to seal all evidence that was presented at trial. The Tennessee Press Association objected to the move saying it was “dangerous” for such a decision to be made without a public hearing on whether the extra protection is needed.

read more »

Sealed Rape Trial Tapes Aired by 20/20

Friday’s episode of the network news magazine show 20/20 aired sealed surveillance video and interrogation tapes from the Vanderbilt rape case, WSMV-TV reports. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk responded to the coverage saying, “Neither the District Attorney’s office nor the police department has ever released any video from this case to any media outlet.” Funk also said release of the material may be a violation of the court’s protective order and the matter will need to be addressed before Judge Monte Watkins, who presided over the recent trial of two former university football players. Two defense lawyers, John Herbison and Worrick Robinson, also denied leaking the videos.

read more »

MTSU Event Looks at 1st Amendment Issues in Ferguson

Middle Tennessee State University will host a discussion next Tuesday on the First Amendment aspects of last summer’s unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Speakers include St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer and videographer David Carson, St. Louis 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French and USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The trio will provide insights into media coverage and criminal justice elements of a high-profile news story such as the Ferguson protests. The event, “From the Front Lines of Ferguson: Covering the New Civil Rights Movement,” will begin at 7 p.m. in the Tucker Theater and is free to the public. The Tennessean has more.

read more »

TBA Board OKs 5 New Sections

TBA members will soon have five new sections to serve them and their practices. Responding to member interest, the TBA Board of Governors this month approved new sections for Communication Law, International Law & Practice, Animal Law, LGBT and Local Government Practice. All TBA sections are self supporting and led by volunteers. If you are interested in becoming a founding member of any of these sections or have an interest in helping lead the development of any of the new sections, you can learn more on TBA.org.

read more »