Policy and News Updates for October 14, 2005

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Policy Updates for October 14, 2005

[new] Congress notes that agencies classify too much, urges reform
Congress advised the Department of Homeland Security to create clearer and more consistent procedures for determining what documents are to be considered "sensitive security information" (SSI) in a conference report on the 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Act. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the 2006 Intelligence Authorization Act commented on the harmful effects of improperly classified information and recommended that the Director of National Intelligence reexamine the classification system.
Sources: See item [5] in EPIC’s newsletter about the conference report; Excerpts from the Conference Report; Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report


[new] Weather scientists barred from talking to press
According to a new policy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, weather and climate scientists and other employees can no longer talk directly to the press. The "go-through-the-press-office policy" is in writing, whereas most similar policies are spoken and often breached. According to the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), the policy even includes instances when news media call the National Weather Service to inform their audiences about the track of a hurricane.
Sources: SEJ WatchDog

[updated] Library group recipient still gagged as PATRIOT Act debate continues
The Supreme Court refused to temporarily lift a gag order on a library group that received a National Security Letter. For now, the recipient cannot engage in the debate surrounding the PATRIOT Act. The American Library Association (ALA) submitted a brief to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg supporting the lifting of the stay on the gag order ruling.
Status:The Second Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on Wednesday, November 2.
Sources: ACLU’s press release; ALA’s press release
Action: Sign the ACLU petition to urge Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to lift the gag order preventing librarians from participating in the PATRIOT Act debate.


[updated] Federal shield laws: Protecting journalists and their confidential sources
In light of Judith Miller’s release from jail, focus turned back to S. 340 and H.R 581, two bills which would shield confidentiality agreements between journalists and their sources and protect the identity of a journalist’s confidential source.
Status: S.340: Senate Judiciary Committee; H.R. 581: House Judiciary Committee
Sources: Text of S. 340 ; Text of H.R 581; Sign the Free Press petition to support these bills.



[updated] Hurricane Katrina response
With complete federal contract information hard to come by, several Congressmen are trying to increase public oversight into money spent on Hurricane Katrina. Bills include the Hurricane Katrina Accountability and Clean Contracting Bill (H.R. 3838), introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-N.J.) ‘Truth in Contracting’ Amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2863), adopted by the Senate. Sen. Tom Coburn (R- Okla.) plans to hold hearings to determine how the government can better track its spending.
Status: H.R. 3838: Introduced in House; H.R.2863: Adopted by the Senate
Sources: H.R. 3838; Lautenberg’s press release and text of H.R.2863; With federal contracts, it’s not easy to follow Katrina money [AP via
Star Tribune]; See an OMB Watch list of toxic chemical sites in New Orleans; POGO’s list of Hurricane Katrina related government oversight legislation
Action: Demand that EPA respond to Hurricane Katrina with more openness. EPA should conduct a transparent investigation of environmental hazards and implement a monitoring system.


[new] EPA dimming sunshine on chemical reporting
The EPA decided to undermine the premier tool for notifying the public about toxic pollution, the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) program. The changes, which would dramatically reduce the information available to the public, include moving from annual to every other year reporting, allowing companies to release ten times as much pollution before they are required to report, and permitting facilities to withhold information on low-level persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs).
Status: Public comments are due by December 5.
Source: EPA Proposes Collecting Less Information on Toxic Pollution; EPA’s proposed TRI rule (pdf)
Action: Submit comments and tell EPA to abandon its plan to rollback TRI reporting.

PATRIOT Act: House votes for renewal, Senate passes bill
The House passed a bill, H.R. 3199, on July 21 to indefinitely extend the PATRIOT Act. The bill renews 14 of the 16 provisions set to expire at the end of this year. The bill did not include the Sanders Amendment, which would have put library and bookstore records out of the Act’s reach. The other two provisions, sections 206 and 215, were extended for 10 years. The Senate bill, S. 1389, extends the wiretap and library provisions for four-years.
Status: The House-Senate Conference Committee is scheduled to meet this fall.
Sources: H.R. 3199; S. 1389; Bill of Rights Defense Committee summary; Text of Senate vote
Alert: Protect libraries and booksellers from Sec. 215 of the PATRIOT Act.


News from Coalition Partners and Others

ISOO Symposium on Classification Policy
The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will hold a public symposium on classified national security information on Tuesday, October 18 from 9am to 1pm. The symposium will mark the tenth anniversary of Executive Order 12958 which made significant changes to the national security classification system. For more information, see the press release.