Policy and News Updates for February 21, 2012

In This Issue:

News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. CIA Charging Outrageous Fees for Opportunity to Question Secrecy
II. Cybersecurity Bill Threatens Public Access to Information, Accountability
III. Partners Join in Opposition to Bill That Cuts Off Access to Taxpayer-funded Research

 

News from Coalition Partners & Others


DOJ Beats Out "Crowded Field" to Win National Security Archive's Rosemary Award

The National Security Archive announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is the recipient of the infamous Rosemary Award for worst open government performance over the past year. The award is named after President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, who erased 18 1/2 minutes of a crucial Watergate tape. Among the lowlights cited in the announcement, are: selective and abusive prosecutions using espionage laws against whistleblowers as ostensible "leakers" of classified information; persisting recycled legal arguments for greater secrecy throughout Justice's litigation posture, including specious arguments before the Supreme Court in 2011 in direct contradiction to President Obama's "presumption of openness"; retrograde proposed regulations that would allow the government to lie in court about the existence of records sought by FOIA requesters; and a mixed overall record on freedom of information.


Center for Public Integrity Announces State Integrity Investigation

The Center for Public Integrity has partnered with Global Integrity and Public Radio International to launch State Integrity Investigation, data-driven analysis of transparency and accountability in all 50 state governments. The project assigns each state a letter grade based on 300 government integrity indicators. See preliminary data here; updated results are expected to be released in March.


CREW's “fix the FEC” Petition Passes "We The People" Threshold

On February 9th, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – CREW announced it and 25,000 signatories is awaiting the official White House response to the petition CREW posted on "We the People" calling on President Obama to reform the Federal Election Commission (FEC). We the People is one of the commitments the Administration made in the National Action Plan it developed as a part of the international Open Government Partnership. The White House has committed to officially responding to any petition that crosses the 25,000 signature threshold. Joining CREW in this petition drive were several coalition partners, including Public Citizen, League of Women Voters of the U.S., and Common Cause.

I. CIA Charging the Public Outrageous Fees for the Opportunity to Question Secrecy

On 23 September 2011, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with no notice or public comment, decreed that the public will now have to pay outrageous fees to have Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests processed. The fees, which can run requesters up to $72 per hour — even if no information is found or released — and the requirement that requesters pay a minimum of $15 in duplication fees, 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.

 

Unlike FOIA requests, if an agency fails to declassify and release the information under the MDR process, requesters can appeal the agency's decision to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for independent review. According to the US Information Security Oversight Office, ISCAP officials have overruled agency classification decisions more than 65 percent of the time since 1996.

 

The regulation can still be withdrawn. We are working with our partners at the National Security Archive to convince the CIA to reverse its actions. Join the effort today by signing our petition, and sharing it with your networks.

II. Cybersecurity Bill Threatens Public Access to Information, Accountability

 

Last week organizations concerned with open government and accountability released a letter expressing their concern with several sections of the recently-introduced Cybersecurity Act of 2012 and urging the Senate to delay voting on the bill until the issues have been carefully and thoroughly reviewed.

 

The letter cites provisions in the bill that create unnecessary, overbroad and unwise limitations to access of information, including broad exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and jeopardize the rights of whistleblowers. Particularly troubling provisions that grant the government new authorities to keep information secret include an exceedingly broad exemption for “critical infrastructure information,” that ignores the strong public interest in some of the information that may be covered. Some of these provisions also conflict with Congress’ recent effort in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012 to limit the scope of CII information that can be withheld by the Department of Defense. Similarly, the bill cuts off all public access to information that may be included in the newly-created cybersecurity exchanges — even though we do not know what types of information may be shared in the exchanges, what protection it warrants, or how best to protect that information.

 

According to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "Public access to information is critical to accountability. What does our government know about risks and vulnerabilities and what is it doing to ensure these are mitigated? What we are kept from knowing can indeed hurt us. The Senate owes it to the public to carefully consider and pass a bill that both protects our nation’s computer networks and promotes transparency and accountability."

III. Partners Join in Opposition to Bill That Cuts Off Access to Taxpayer-funded Research

 

Thirty organizations, including several coalition partners, joined OpenTheGovernment.org in sending a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee expressing strong opposition to the Research Works Act (H.R.3699), a bill designed to roll back a hard-fought-for policy that secured no-fee public access to NIH’s taxpayer-funded research, and also to block the development of similar policies at other federal agencies. The Committee has yet to take any action on the bill.

 

The NIH Policy on Enhancing Public Access is part of legislation signed into law by President Obama on March 11, 2009. It requires eligible NIH-funded researchers to deposit electronic copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts into the National Library of Medicine’s online archive, PubMed Central (PMC). Full texts of the articles are made publicly available and searchable online in PMC no later than 12 months after publication in a journal.

 

Since the letter was sent, the Federal Research Public Access Act (HR 4004/S 2096) was introduced. It would extend the NIH Public Access Policy to 11 agencies with research portfolios of $100 million or more.

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