Policy and News Updates for January 5, 2006

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Policy Updates for January 5, 2005

[new] White House directs agencies to standardize "sensitive but unclassified"
The White House issued a memo for agencies requiring the Director of National Intelligence to standardize "sensitive but unclassified" information (SBU). Agencies have wide discretion to withhold unclassified information with few controls, oversight, or penalties for abuse.
Status: Memo issued on December 16.
Sources: White House Memorandum via Secrecy News 12/20; CJOG (3rd item)

[new] Secret spying heats up
Secrecy limited oversight and debate over controversial National Security Agency plans to spy on Americans without a court order. The secrecy forced employees uneasy about the program’s legality to do the only thing they could: let the public know.
Sources: Files Say Agency Initiated Growth of Spying Effort [New York Times]; Official: Bush authorized spying multiple times [MSNBC]; House Democratic Leader Pelosi’s letter on NSA activities; NSA whistleblower asks to testify [Washington Times]

[updated] President Bush issues new Executive Order on FOIA
The executive order would require agencies to name a Chief FOIA Officer, and to establish FOIA Requester Service Centers to help people find out the status of their requests. This executive order will not fix many of the problems with the current FOIA system that are addressed by Sens. Cornyn and Leahy’s Faster FOIA and OPEN Government Acts.
Status: Executive order issued on December 14. In a memorandum dated December 30, 2005, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided details to Bush’s executive order, including deadlines for implementation throughout fiscal years 2006 and 2007
Sources: Executive Order from the White House; Cornyn and Leahy’s Open Gov’t Act and Faster FOIA; CJOG (2nd item); OMB issues further guidance on FOIA executive order [Government Computer News]; OMB Memorandum(pdf); The Mounting Powers of Secrecy [New York Times]

[updated] PATRIOT Act: Reauthorization vote delayed
On December 30, President Bush signed S. 2167, a five-week extension of the PATRIOT Act in a last-minute compromise. The Senate initially approved a six-month extension to allow more time for negotiations but the House insisted on a shorter version.
Status: The 16 expiring provisions are extended through Feb. 3. The House is scheduled to vote on February 1 assuming a deal can be worked out.
Sources: Bush Assails Democrats Over Patriot Act; Bush signs extension of Patriot Act [CNN]; S. 2167; H.R. 3199; S. 1389

[updated] Congress finally funds Public Interest Declassification Board
Congress will give $1 million to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), set up to advise the president on ways to prevent agencies from classifying documents that should be public.
Status: The money was allocated in the final version of the FY 2006 Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 2863).
Sources: H.R. 2863; PIDB Act of 2000 via Secrecy News 1/5; POGO’s sign on letter urging funding for PIDB



News from Coalition Partners and Others

[new] Sunshine Week: Are We Safer in the Dark?
On Monday, March 13, 2006 a panel of experts from around the country will kick off a lively discussion about open government and secrecy. A panel discussion will start in Washington, DC and link via satellite to locally hosted discussions in communities across the country. Civic organizations, libraries, universities and other groups can participate by becoming a host site or a local sponsor. Find out more here.