Policy and News Updates for January 9, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] Presidential signing statement on mail snooping
On December 20, President Bush issued a signing statement (a written pronouncement issued by the President, historically used by Presidents to comment of the enactment of a law) accompanying H.R. 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. H.R. 6407 states that First Class Mail cannot be opened without a warrant, but the signing statement asserts the power to open mail "otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances." It is unclear how this power is being used and whether there is any oversight involved.
Sources: President’s Statement on H.R. 6407, the "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act" [White House press release 12.20.06]; White House defends signing statement attached to postal reform bill [JURIST 1.5.07]; Trusting the White House [Washington Times Commentary 1.9.07]; OpenTheGovernment.org Secrecy Report Card 2006, with a section on Presidential signing statements

[new] Executive agencies declassify millions of pages
On the eve of December 31, 2006, millions of secret pages were automatically declassified and made available to the public as required by Executive Order 12958 (E.O. 12958). E.O. 12958 (as amended by Executive Order 13292) states, "all classified records that (1) are more than 25 years old and (2) have been determined to have permanent historical value under title 44, United States Code, shall be automatically declassified whether or not the records have been reviewed. Subsequently, all classified records shall be automatically declassified on December 31 of the year that is 25 years from the date of its original classification," unless an agency head has determined that it falls within a narrow exemption that permits continued classification. The Executive Order was adopted by the Clinton administration and enforced by the Bush administration.
Sources: U.S. to Declassify Secrets at Age 25 [New York Times 12.20.06] Executive Order 12958, as amended by Executive Order 13292 [Federal Register: March 28, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 60)]

[updated status] Dept. of Justice denies Sen. Leahy policy docs
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the 110th Congress, asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release two newly acknowledged documents on the Bush Administration’s interrogation and detention policies. The first is a directive President Bush signed giving the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) authority to establish detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods. The second is a 2002 memo on interrogation methods that the CIA may use against al-Qaeda leaders. The CIA recently acknowledged the existence of the documents in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Status: UPDATE: DOJ denied the documents to Sen. Leahy
Sources: Sen. Leahy’s comments and the original letter [Sen. Leahy’s website, 1.2.07]; Congressional Access to Secrets Showdown [POGO blog 1.3.07]

News from Coalition Partners and Others

OpenTheGovernment.org 2006 Report
OpenTheGovernment.org had a busy and productive year in 2006. Our 2006 Report details the ways in which we broadened support for open government and our plan for strengthening and sustaining the openness and anti-secrecy advocacy infrastructure. Read the report here.

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