Columbia University and the Knight Foundation established the Knight First Amendment Institute in the summer of 2016 with the goal of promoting the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age. In just three years, we’ve won major legal victories, commissioned and promoted scholarly research that’s helped shape public debate, and sponsored public events with many leading journalists, technologists, litigators, legal scholars, and policymakers. We have deep and productive relationships with Columbia’s law, journalism, and engineering schools. We have the support of an unusually diverse group of funders. We have a truly extraordinary staff.
And, as of this morning, we have a new website that presents our work more clearly and dynamically, makes that work more accessible in a number of ways, and better conveys the energy and excitement we bring to our mission.
The new website reflects an enormous amount of work by designers and developers at Point Five and Tierra Innovation, Inc. and by Larry Siems, Lorraine Kenny, Helen Zhong, Alex Abdo, Madeline Wood, Ella Solovtsova Epstein, and others at the Knight Institute. We’re delighted to launch the site and eager to hear reactions to it.
How the site is organized
The site is organized along two axes—by program area (Litigation, Research, Public Education) and issue (Free Speech & Social Media, Transparency & Democracy, and Privacy & Surveillance). Under the Issues tab, you can explore the litigation, research, and public events we’ve carried out in each of our three issue areas. The Litigation, Research, and Events tabs will lead you to comprehensive collections of our work in our three program areas.
The best way to get a sense of the new site is to use it. As I think you’ll see, we’ve tried to pay attention to the details—from fonts to footnotes to art design. For now, let me just highlight a couple of features.
A new way to present legal filings
One of the things we wanted to do with the new site is make our legal filings more accessible. The kinds of cases we work on often involve hundreds of legal filings over many years—complaints, amended complaints, answers, briefs, replies, sur-replies, status updates, opinions, orders, judgments …. It’s easy to lose track of the relationship between filings, especially when cases bounce up and down between trial and appellate courts, or when the cases bifurcate or trifurcate (or quadrifurcate, etc.), as they surprisingly often do. Sometimes it’s helpful to see legal filings presented in chronological order, but sometimes a chronological list obfuscates rather than illuminates.
On our new site, every case page includes a legal docket that lists and links to every important document that’s been filed in that case. The filings are listed chronologically, but we’ve added a tool that allows users to surface the relationship between filings. (Scroll down to the legal docket on this page, for example, and click on the icon next to the Government’s October 13, 2017 motion for summary judgment.) We think this tool will make our legal dockets much easier to navigate and the logic and structure of the cases much easier to understand.
A new way to present documents obtained through transparency litigation
We frequently use freedom of information laws, and the First Amendment, to litigate for access to official documents that we believe are important to the public’s ability to understand government conduct and policy. Using the federal Freedom of Information Act, for example, we’ve been able to obtain important documents relating to warrantless searches of travelers’ electronic devices at the border, the intelligence agencies’ system of “prepublication review,” the FBI’s surveillance of journalists, and federal agencies’ policies relating to the “duty to warn.”
With the new site, we’ll be able to present these documents in a way that makes them easier to read, understand, and analyze. Each major collection of documents will be housed in a Reading Room and made searchable by, e.g., keyword, authoring entity, type of document, releasing agency, publication date, and release date. Readers can also filter any search so that the search focuses only on documents we’ve tagged as “key” documents. With the launch of the new site, we’ve created a Reading Room for Knight Institute v. DHS, a FOIA lawsuit we filed in October 2017 for records relating to President Trump’s “extreme vetting” order and the administration’s effort to institute a new ideological litmus test for new immigrants. You can explore that Reading Room here. We’ll be adding additional Reading Rooms over the next few months.
Please let us know what you think
We expect to be refining and continuing to build the site over the next months. We’re eager to hear your thoughts about what’s working well, what’s not, and what we could do to make the site more appealing and more useful. If you have reactions to the site, please write to Lorraine Kenny, our Communications Director, at [email protected].
Thanks for your interest in our work, and for your support. If you’re not already a subscriber to our email list, please sign up here. We expect to have some major announcements relating to litigation and research in the fall.
Jameel Jaffer is executive director of the Knight Institute.