In 2012, Talib Abdur-Rashid, an imam based in Harlem, sued New York City under the state’s version of the Freedom of Information Act, to find out whether he and his mosque had been under surveillance by the New York Police Department (NYPD). In addition, he requested all FBI records related to any investigation of him. In September 2014, a New York state Supreme Court judge denied the FOIA requests and ruled that the NYPD’s “Glomar Response” was justified. As Jon Campbell reports in the Village Voice, a Glomar Response refers to instances in which officials resist disclosing any information on the grounds that “simply confirming the existence of certain records would be enough to undermine government interests.”
The Glomar Response dates back to the 1970s and has expanded to allow government agencies to assert that they can “neither confirm or deny” information as a legitimate response to requests made under the federal Freedom of Information Act, when responding might compromise national security or privacy. As CJ Ciaramella writes, “The Glomar doctrine gives agencies the obvious power to hide the existence of records, but it also allows agencies to short-circuit the appeal process, since requestors can’t file an appeal for records they don’t know exist.” In Abdur-Rashid’s case, the NYPD argued that responding to his request would disclose, in Campbell’s words, “sensitive information about the department’s investigative techniques.”
As Campbell’s report notes, the NYPD invocation of the Glomar response pushed the judge to “reach beyond state court precedent, essentially deciding the issue based on federal legal doctrine, which would normally have no bearing on a case in state court.” The case is likely the first in which a court has affirmed a Glomar response below the federal level.
In a similar case, North Jersey Media Group v. Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the state of New Jersey is seeking to invoke a Glomar response to a request for information. The case has yet to be decided, but the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other groups argue that allowing Glomar to be invoked at the state level serves to promote increased secrecy and less public accountability, rather than to protect national security interests.
As of November 19, 2014, only a handful of independent news websites blogs have reported this issue. Since corporate media has fully ignored the story, it can be deemed a censored story.
Sources: Jon Campbell, “An Infamous CIA Secrecy Argument Is Now Being Used by the NYPD,” Village Voice, October 16, 2014, http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2014/10/when_the_cia_joined_twitter.php.
Adam Marshall, “Trial Court Allows Police to Use “Glomar” Response to Deny Records Requests,” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, October 16, 2014, http://www.rcfp.org/browse-media-law-resources/news/trial-court-allows-police-use-glomar-response-deny-records-requests – sthash.3Wwy4zks.dpuf.
CJ Ciaramella, “Court Gives NYPD Glomar Powers and More,” Freedom of Press Foundation, October 17, 2014, https://freedom.press/blog/2014/10/week-transparency-court-gives-nypd-glomar-powers-and-more.
Student Researchers: Jordan Gomolin and Sam Bacherman (Beaver Country Day School)
Faculty Evaluator: Kader Adjout (Beaver Country Day School)