Policy and News Updates for August 24, 2004

Policy Updates


(New information is highlighted with [new] or [updated] in the title) NOTE: Beginning with this week’s updates, we’re altering the format to (1) better clarify where your actions could have an immediate impact, (2) better warn you of issues that may require action in the near future, and (3) better keep you informed of other issues that may help or hinder your ability to keep government open and accountable.

As always, let us know how we can improve the updates and any omissions.



Independent Classification Board
Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to create an Independent National Security Classification Board in the executive branch.
Status: S.2672 has been referred to the Committee on Intelligence. H.R.4855 was referred to the House Committee on Intelligence.
Action: Send a letter to Congress in support of a classification board!


Patriot Act: Reversing the Patriot Act
The Civil Liberties Restoration Act 2004 (S. 2528) would end secret hearings, ensure due process for detained individuals, limit secret seizures of records, and limit the use of secret evidence.
Status: Introduced by members of the House and Senate June 16, and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: Text of the bill, June 16, 2004. A bill analysis & talking points is available from the Rights Working Group.
Action: Organizations can add their name to this letter and individuals can send a letter to Congress.


Patriot Act: Freedom to Read Protection Act
House Republicans, under strong pressure from the White House, narrowly defeated an amendment that would restrict the government’s ability to seize library and bookseller records under the Patriot Act.
Source: Washington Post, July 9, 2004.
Action: Contact Congress and sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition.


Should trains identify hazardous materials? Tom Ridge wants input
Despite their own study concluding the current system works, the Department of Homeland Security wants to know if railcars should continue to identify whether their contents are hazardous. Quickly identifying hazards is critical to saving lives in an accident involving hazardous chemicals.
Status: The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comment on the proposal through October 18, 2004.
Action: Read the proposal. Note:Check these updates for a sample letter to be posted as soon as the government begins accepting public comment through its electronic docket system.


Sensitive Security Information (SSI): Federalism v. Secrecy
The Senate pushed to pre-empt state and local sunshine laws in order to mandate secrecy about public safety problems in aviation, rail and other transportation systems.
Status: The administration-sponsored secrecy provisions were in the Senate-passed version of the $ 350 billion transportation bill (H.R. 3550); the version passed by the House lacks them. Currently in conference.
Action: Send a letter through the American Library Association action alert.



Patriot Act: Extending Patriot Act
H.R. 3179, introduced by Reps. Sensenbrenner and Goss, includes several sections of Patriot II. After opposition from many groups coordinated by the Rights Working Group, H.R. 3179 was not added to the intelligence authorization bill (S. 2386) during a closed mark-up session on June 16th.
Status: May come up as a floor amendment to the intelligence authorization bill in the Senate.
Source: Bill of Rights Defense Committee.


Patriot Act: Patriot Act Sunsets
On May 21, ten senators introduced a bill, S. 2476, that would make permanent many provisions of the Patriot Act scheduled to sunset next year.
Status: The bill is referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: THOMAS.


DHS Environmental Procedures Promote Secrecy
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to hide Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), partially or in whole, from public disclosure. A June 14 directive published in the Federal Register would exempt the agency from a number of requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Status: The public comment period CLOSED Aug. 16 and DHS is reviewing comments.
Source: OMB Watcher and DHS website.


Indian Affairs FOIA Exemption
Section 7 of S. 297, the Federal Acknowledgment Process Reform Act of 2003 exempts certain actions by the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Several groups and individuals voiced objections to a Senate Bureau of Indian Affairs reform bill, in a letter delivered to Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) July 8.
Status: Committee markup is complete and the FOIA exemptions still remain. Not likely to come up on the floor but could be pushed through before the end of the session.
Source: OMB Watcher, July 12, 2004.


Media Coverage of Military Coffins
By a vote of 54-39, the Senate on June 21, upheld a ban on media coverage of fallen soldiers’ flag-draped coffins returning to the U.S.
Source: New York Times, June 22, 2004.


News Highlights


Looking for authors! The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service distributes op-ed opinion pieces on any topic related to freedom of information. The op-eds may be published freely as long as the author is credited. To view the latest op-ed as well as all pieces in the series, go to Knight Ridder/Tribune. Pieces should be 700 words in length and sent to Ray Walker at rwalker@krtinfo.com and oped@krtinfo.com. Please also let us know if you submit a piece!


Lawmakers seek incentives to reduce classification of information
A Tuesday House hearing will examine incentives to stop federal agencies from overclassifying material in order to improve information sharing across the government.
[GovExec.com Aug. 23, 2004]


PFAWF Sues DOJ for Information on Secret Cases
The People For the American Way Foundation has filed suit against the Department of Justice in order to access records on court challenges filed regarding post-9/11 secret detentions.
[PFAW Aug. 23, 2004]


U.S. Uses Secret Evidence In Secrecy Fight With ACLU
The American Civil Liberties Union revealed information the Justice Department is hiding as secret evidence in civil court cases is innocuous, raising questions to the validity of the department’s actions.
[Washington Post Aug. 20, 2004]


Blagojevich vetoes FOIA time limit
The governor of Illinois vetoed a bill that would have set a 60-day time limit for anyone filing a lawsuit in response to rejected Freedom of Information Act requests.
[Illinois Leader Aug. 20, 2004]


Past Updates…