Policy and News Updates for November 14, 2007

Policy and News Updates

I. Secrecy in the Farm Bill

Two weeks ago, OpenTheGovernment.org learned from one of our coalition partners, the Society of Environmental Journalists, that a secrecy provision had been written in to the 2007 Farm Bill. The non-disclosure provision (Sec. 10305 of the Livestock Title) was approved by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on October 25, 2007. This secrecy provision is not in the House-passed bill and should be removed from the Senate bill.

Section 10305 creates a Freedom of Information Act exemption, without explicitly stating so, by prohibiting disclosure of information including “animal identification” information and information gathered in the USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS). That prohibition violates the letter and spirit of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (S. 849) which the Senate passed in August.

Under the exemption, only the Agriculture Secretary would be allowed to disclose NAIS information to the owner of the animal in question, a state agriculture department, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, foreign governments, or to other parties when ordered to do so by a court. It would preempt state and local disclosure laws. As a result, the public would remain in the dark. The bill also forbids any “use” (beyond those listed above) by “any individual or entity” of NAIS information. Members of the public and the press could face criminal or civil penalties for publishing information from the NAIS. The provision violates the OPEN Government Act and principles of openness, and should be struck from the bill.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

Debate transparency questions now at Helium.com
As we announced in the last edition of the Updates, OpenTheGovernment.org has partnered with Helium, the leading Web 2.0 destination where people can speak their minds and consider opposing opinions. This week, we are highlighting two questions, which you can debate on our partner page at Helium.com:

Question 1: Does governmental secrecy make us safer?

Question 2: Should private citizens and reporters who have unauthorized possession of classified information be allowed to publish it?

Our partnership was recently highlighted in National Journal’s Technology Daily. Read the article.

Ask a question of presidential candidates and rally support for your top questions
1. You ask a video question to the presidential candidates.
2. You vote on the best questions.
3. The top ten questions get selected

One of the presidential candidates has agreed to participate in Round II of 10Questions. This means he will respond to the top ten questions on the site after voting ends next Wednesday, Nov. 14. Help us make sure transparency is one of the 10Questions by voting here!

The 10Questions Presidential Forum is produced by techPresident.