Policy and News Updates for March 6, 2012

In This Issue:

News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Groups Urge President to Reject "Unprecedented Level of Secrecy" in Trade Negotiation
II. Join Us in Celebrating Sunshine Week
III. Senate Judiciary to Look at "Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure Information and the Public's Right to Know"

News from Coalition Partners & Others

ASNE Rounds Up Experts for FOIA Twitter Chat – March 13

On Tuesday, March 13 from 2 – 3:30 ASNEchat will host a twitter chat on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) issues. Experts on FOIA policy and practice from several coalition partners are scheduled to participate, including OpenTheGov's Executive Director Patrice McDermott (tweeting from @OpenTheGov), the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (tweeting from @RCFP), Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight – POGO (tweeting from @Daniellebrian), and Kevin Goldberg, Counsel at the American Society of News Editors – ASNE (tweeting from @kevinmgoldberg).

TRAC Releases New Report Showing No Effect of AG's Memo on Openness

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) recently released a report finding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is not following the guidelines for defending agencies in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suits laid out in the Attorney General's March 19 Memorandum. The Memo says DOJ will "defend a denial of a FOIA request only if (1) the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of the statutory exemptions, or (2) disclosure is prohibited by law." TRAC's careful review of the record and interviews with numerous attorneys involved with FOIA litigation found little evidence of the guidelines being applied. In fact, some individuals interviewed by TRAC expressed the opinion that DOJ attorneys had become even more aggressive in defending anything that federal agencies chose to withhold. The report is part of TRAC's FOIA Project, a site built and maintained to bring transparency to the process by which the U.S. government withholds information.


NFOIC Launches Open Government Video Project

Last week the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) launched a video project to help tell why open government is an important goal. #OpenGovVideos includes testimonials looking at access issues through the lenses of journalism, the law, education, government and advocacy. NFOIC plans to add at least one video per week. Check out the project here.

I. Groups Urge President to Reject "Unprecedented Level of Secrecy" in Trade Negotiation

On February 28, more than 20 organizations joined OpenTheGovernment.org is sending a letter to President Obama urging him to increase the transparency of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiating process. Despite the significant effect the pact may have on the way we live our lives by limiting our public protections, there has been no public access to even the most fundamental draft agreement texts and other documents.



The TPP FTA negotiations have been conducted in unprecedented secrecy. While the World Trade Organization posts negotiating texts on its website for review, and negotiating texts were also made available on the recently-completed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), such openness has not been adopted, to date, in the context of TPP FTA talks. Indeed, to the contrary, parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding 2010 imposing heightened secrecy for the process.


The issues now being negotiated extend significantly beyond traditional trade matters, such as tariffs, and include patent and copyright, land use, food and product standards, natural resources, professional licensing, government procurement, financial practices, healthcare, energy, telecommunications, and other service sector regulations, and more.

II. Join Us in Celebrating Sunshine Week



On Friday, March 16 from 1:15 to 3:30, OpenTheGovernment.org will host our 7th annual Sunshine Week Discussion. The event, which will be held at the Knight Conference Center in the Newseum and available via webcast across the country, will follow the morning panels of the Freedom Forum's 14th annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference. This year’s panels will focus on: the role of whistleblowers and the press in accountable government, and the risks of sharing information; and whether national security claims trump the open government commitments of this Administration. Confirmed panelists include Dana Priest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Top Secret America, and Mark Cohen, former Executive Director of the Government Accountability Project and current Deputy Counsel at the Office of Special Counsel. Learn more about all of our panelists here.


We also hope everyone in the DC area will join us on Wednesday, March 14 from 6 pm – 8 pm for Sunshine at Sundown, an open government happy hour hosted by the National Press Club in conjunction with the Sunlight Foundation to discuss issues surrounding transparency in government, and find out the latest from those working on and committed to open government. The event is co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors, OpenTheGovernment.org, Online News Association, POPVOX, ProPublica, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and United Republic. The event is free, but registration is required.


In addition to our events, several of our partners will be holding a variety of events throughout the week. Check out our listing of DC-area events here. If you are not in DC, you can find a listing of events across the country on the Sunshine Week site.


Sunshine Week is an initiative of the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to promote a dialogue about the importance of the public's right to know what its government is doing, and why. The celebration coincides with National Freedom of Information (FOI) Day and James Madison's birthday on March 16.

III. Senate Judiciary to Look at "Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure Information and the Public's Right to Know"



On Tuesday, March 13 the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled, "The Freedom of Information Act: Safeguarding Critical Infrastructure Information and the Public's Right to Know" at 10:30 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. During the hearing, the Committee will hear from witnesses from the government and public interest advocates, including Kenneth Bunting, the Executive Director of our coalition partner, the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).



The Judiciary Committee's broad oversight of the government's efforts to protect sensitive information and the public interest in disclosure of information that is critical to public health and safety is a welcome occurrence, and comes at a critical time. In the closing months of 2011, the openness community worked with our allies on Capitol Hill to fight back an overly-broad request from the Department of Defense (DOD) in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA) for new authority to keep critical infrastructure information (CII) secret. We succeeded in significantly narrowing the scope of information DOD can withhold to cover "critical security infrastructure information" and added a requirement that the Secretary of Defense weigh the public interest in disclosure before signing off on using the authority to withhold information. A similarly broad request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the authority to withhold CII recently appeared in the Cybersecurity Act of 2012. In fact, as drafted, sections of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 conflict with requirements signed into law as part of the NDAA.


Link to the live webcast of the hearing here.





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