Policy and News Update for August 7, 2012


In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Senate Intelligence Committee's Bill is Troubling for Openness, Accountability
II. Cybersecurity Measure Fails in the Senate


News from Coalition Partners & Others

Sunlight Foundation Launches “Open States”

Have you ever wished you could identify your state representatives, explore their voting records, view upcoming events and find representatives’ contact information all in the same place? If you live in one of the 20 states included in Sunlight’s beta version of OpenStates.org, you can. The site collects legislative data from all 50 states and the District of Colombia and makes it all available for bulk download or in API format.

National Coalition Against Censorship Launches Censorship Wiki

The newly-launched Censorpedia creates a portal to legal history, threats, and testimony of censorship. The Wiki format allows users from all over to contribute to the database, adding cases, censorship incidents, and methods for combatting censorship.

Partners Submit Brief in Favor of Campaign Advertising Disclosure

The Center for Media and Democracy, Center for Responsive Politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Sunlight Foundation and other groups filed an amicus brief in Van Hollen vs. Federal Election Commission. The case will be heard in the DC Court of Appeals, after the lower court ruled that the FEC had improperly narrowed the rules of disclosure for outside groups spending on electioneering communications like campaign advertisements.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Publishes FOIA Appeals Guide

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’ Federal FOIA Appeals guide is now online. It is a more detailed expansion of RCFP’s Federal Open Government Guide. The new guide aims to help journalists effectively submit appeals to FOIA request s that may have been improperly denied. The guide provides advice on crafting appeal letters, presents appeal options available, and synthesizes the legal specifics regarding appeals.

I. Senate Intelligence Committee's Bill is Troubling for Openness, Accountability

Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee unveiled its version of the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill, S.3454, which includes twelve provisions intended to address leaks of classified information. The leaks proposal, which was hastily drawn up by the leadership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee without the benefit of hearings or other outside input, has drawn concern from a wide range of groups concerned with openness and civil liberties.


The overall effect of the proposal, if signed into law, would be to limit the public's right to know and our ability to have a healthy, informed debate about our nation's intelligence policies. We recently joined with our coalition partner the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and others to raise particular concerns about provisions that would make the unauthorized disclosure of any classified information a punishable offense, regardless of its public policy significance, and threatens free speech rights and due process of current and former federal employees. Furthermore, the proposal fails to address persistent problems like overclassification and protections for whistleblowers that aggravate the balance between the public's right to know and legitimate security concerns.

Unfortunately, where the Senate Intelligence proposal does address one of the sources of leaks — the high number of security clearances across the federal government — it actually removes an accountability measure from system. Section 308 of S.3454 excuses the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) from delivering an annual report to Congress that has shed a lot of light on the size and operation of security clearance operations in recent years. Before the reporting requirement was created by the 2010 Intelligence Authorization bill, the best guess we had of the number of security clearances across the federal government was an estimate prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The first ODNI report showed that the GAO estimate was low by more than a million clearances. According to the ODNI's 2012 report, there are approximately 4.8 million people with access to our nation's secrets. Eliminating this reporting requirement makes it impossible for the public to have an informed discussion about our nation's intelligence policies, and will negatively affect Congress' ability to conduct good oversight.

II. Cybersecurity Measure Fails in the Senate

On Thursday, August 2, a procedural vote on the new version of Senator Lieberman's cybersecurity proposal failed to get enough support to move the bill to the floor for a vote. It's unclear at this time if the Senate will try to take up the measure again sometime after the five week recess, or take up a different cybersecurity bill, or leave the issue unaddressed.

As we reported last week, Senator Lieberman and his colleagues had made some changes to the proposal that narrowed the definition, scope and limitation of covered "critical infrastructure information," and preserved existing whistleblower protections, but the bill still contained unnecessary, overbroad and unwise limitations to access of information. In particular, we and others in the openness community object to a provision that would summarily cut off all public access to any information that the private sector shares with the federal government through the new cybersecurity exchanges created under the bill. This language, which was included to encourage companies to share what could be sensitive information, ignores that there are existing protections for sensitive business and security information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Furthermore, we continue to say it is bad policy to exempt information from public disclosure before Congress or the public have any idea about the scope and type of information that may be shared is bad policy, and could make it impossible for the public to understand whether the government is taking appropriate steps to protect our nation's cyber-connected infrastructure.