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Policy and News Update for April 17, 2012

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Groups Ask House to Reject Cybersecurity Bill that Constitutes Wholesale Attack on FOIA
II. Most Agencies, with Notable Exceptions, Post New Open Government Plans
III. CIA Sends a Response - Of Sorts - to Request to Withdraw Controversial Declassification Regulation

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others

 

Sunlight Foundation Leads Effort to Improve Access to Legislative Information

 

Last week the Sunlight Foundation released a group of letters signed by 30 organizations - including OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our coalition partners - urging Congress to direct the Library of Congress to make legislative information more accessible. The letters specifically ask Congress to publish the THOMAS database online and create an advisory committee on improving public access to legislative information composed of people inside and outside of government.

NFOIC and SPJ Announce 2012 Heroes Award

The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists announced that Toby Nixon, president of our coalition partner Washington Coalition for Open Government, has been selected for induction into Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame for 2012. The award recognizes the contributions made by open government advocates in individual states. This year’s induction ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 12, at a luncheon during the 2012 FOI Summit in Madison, WI.

Partners Urge Senate to Act on Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Nominations

Several coalition partners, including OpenTheGovernment.org, joined an effort organized by the Constitution Project to ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to promptly hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s nominees to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). Not a single member has been confirmed to the PCLOB since legislation reforming the Board was enacted in 2007, and the newly-empowered independent Board has never come into existence.

I. Groups Ask House to Reject Cybersecurity Bill that Constitutes Wholesale Attack on FOIA

Almost forty organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org in urging the House of Representatives to oppose HR 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, because it constitutes a wholesale attack on public access to information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In the interest of encouraging private companies to share cybersecurity threat information, the bill unwisely and unnecessarily cuts off all public access to cyber threat information before the public and Congress have the chance to understand the types of information that are withheld under the bill. Much of the sensitive information private companies are likely to share with the government is already protected from disclosure under the FOIA. Other information that may be shared could be critical for the public to ensure its safety. The public needs access to some information to be able to assess whether the government is adequately combating cybersecurity threats and, when necessary, hold officials accountable.

Several cybersecurity bills in the House and Senate include FOIA-related provisions that are overbroad and unnecessary. HR 3523 is especially dangerous because of the lack of specificity as to what can be considered "cybersecurity threat information," and is expected to be brought to the House floor for a vote in the near future. One of the more surprising names on the list of more than 100 cosponsors on the measure is Representative Darrell Issa, the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the co-chair of the Transparency Caucus. We've set up a petition asking Chairman Issa to stand up for public access to information by withdrawing his co-sponsorship. We hope you will join us in urging Chairman Issa to use his Committee's expertise in public access to information to help make sure any FOIA-related provision promotes transparency and public accountability while allowing the government to withhold only that information which truly requires protection.

Participate and learn more about the bill on twitter using #cispa.

II. Most Agencies, with Notable Exceptions, Post New Open Government Plans

A review of several large agencies' /open pages revealed that a slim majority of agencies met the requirement under the White House's Open Government Directive to post "Version 2" of the Open Government Plans by early last week. Thirteen out of the 24 /open pages reviewed on April 10 by OpenTheGovernment.org staff did include recently updated Open Government Plans. Among the notable agencies who have not updated their plans (or in some cases even recently updated their /open page) are: the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, Veterans Affairs, the Department of Interior, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Energy.

According to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "We are pleased a majority of agencies met the White House’s deadline for posting refreshed versions of their Open Government Plans. The fact that a number of major agencies have failed to meet the deadline set in the White House’s Open Government Directive is troubling, though. The White House needs to remind agencies that it is serious about making the federal government more open and accountable."

While a collaborative effort similar to that we organized in 2010 to evaluate the strength of these plans is not in the cards this year, we and our partners did have open talks with several agencies about the kinds of things we hoped to see in their revamped plans. We look forward to digging into the substance of the some of the plans soon.

III. CIA Sends a Response - Of Sorts - to Request to Withdraw Controversial Declassification Regulation

Last week the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sent a brief reply to the National Security Archive saying that, as the outrageous Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) regulations the CIA put in place with no notice for public comment are currently a matter of litigation, all correspondence on the issue will be referred to the counsel of record at the Department of Justice.

Several organizations and individuals joined in protesting the regulations because they put in place outrageous fees for the opportunity to challenge secrecy claims. The fees -- which can run requesters up to $72 per hour even if no information is found or released -- effectively cut off access to a system that researchers, historians, public interest advocates and others have used successfully to challenge the CIA's extreme secrecy. The CIA's MDR regulations are one of several issues raised in a class action lawsuit on behalf of frequent MDR requesters filed by Kel McClanahan, Executive Director of National Security Counselors (NSC). Nothing prevents the CIA from simply withdrawing the regulation as requested.

 

 

 

 

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