Policy and News Update for October 30, 2012

In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. What in the World of Government Secrecy

News from Coalition Partners & Others

 

DC Open Government Coalition Fights for Email Disclosure

The DC Open Government Coalition filed suit against the Council of the District of Columbia, seeking disclosure of official business conducted through personal email providers. The practice of using non-governmental providers has been used to evade the requirements of the DC FOIA.

Partners File Suit Against Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Data Withholding

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) filed suit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arguing that the agency’s withholding of its master repository of investigations and operations information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a violation of the law. TRAC is represented by Public Citizen Litigation Group.

EPIC Fights for Better FOIA Fee Procedures

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), stating that the agency hampers access to FOIA by withholding fee waivers that should be granted. On October 19th, the Office of Government Information Services announced changes to the procedures to aid requesters. DHS will now issue conditional fee waivers for likely qualifiers, inform requesters of their legal rights for fee waivers, and provide clearer break down of costs.

I. What in the World of Government Secrecy

As we enter the heart of the campaign silly season we thought you all might like to take a break from news stories about candidate gaffes and polling trends. Below are some important stories from the last few weeks about the nature and effect of government secrecy that might you might have missed:

  • Questions on Drones, Unanswered Still (New York Times: Public Editor, October 13, 2012) — In light of last week's revelation by the Washington Post that the Administration is institutionalizing the "kill list," now might be a good time to think about how little the public really knows about the government's use of drones abroad, and the related kill list.
  • US a nation of secrets — and leaks: experts (AFP via Google News, October 16, 2012) — A panel at Fordham Law School in New York discussed how the government creates confusion by authorizing officials to reveal classified information while prosecuting others who essentially the same thing. The panel also discussed problems created by the government's rampant overclassification and the response to sites like Wikileaks.
  • The Big Chill: How Obama is Operating in Unprecedented Secrecy–While Attacking Secret-Tellers (Huffington Post, October 17, 2002) — Dan Froomkin discusses how many important foreign and domestic policies are being developed and executed in extreme secrecy, and why neither Congress nor the press seems to be fighting back.
  • Guantanamo Prisoner's Opinion of LeBron James Treated as Top Secret (Reuter via Yahoo News, October 16, 2012) and Feds Cite ‘State Secrets’ in Dragnet Surveillance Case — Again (Wired: Threat Level, October 23, 2012) — These two stories are grouped together because while the topic of the articles and even the issues at stake are different, they are both examples of our national security bureaucracy's overwhelming predisposition towards secrecy. As Wired reports in the case of the government's assertion of the State Secrets Privilege to end the Electronic Frontier Foundation's case regarding the dragnet surveillance program, "Despite the government’s protestations that talking about the program would expose national secrets, the program is well-known, well-documented, and as of 2008, partially legalized by a compliant Congress." Essentially, the government is attempting to stop litigation from going forward on the basis that it must protect information that is already public knowledge. The second article regarding statements of detainees at Guantanamo is perhaps a bit funnier: according to a military defense lawyer, "U.S. security restrictions governing the statements of former CIA captives held at Guantanamo are so stringent that one prisoner's assessment of basketball star LeBron James was treated as a top national secret for two months." The effect of this secrecy is no less serious, however: for decades experts in the field of national security have pointed out that clogging up the classified universe with information that does not need such rigorous protections has many negative consequences.

 

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