Policy and News Updates for September 14, 2004

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Policy Updates


(New information is highlighted with [new] or [updated] in the title)


Whistleblower Protection Legislation
The Senate is ready to vote on the "Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act" (S. 2628), which would be the first stand-alone whistleblower protection bill to be approved by the Senate Committee in ten years. This legislation would amend the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) to ensure protection against reprisal for federal employees who bring government wrongdoing to light. The House companion bill (H.R. 3281) has yet to leave committee, despite promises from the committee chairman that he would act.
Status: S.2628 is ready for Senate vote but H.R.3281 has not left the House Government Reform Committee.
Source: Government Accountability Project press release.
Action: Contact the Government Reform Committee.


NIH Proposes Open Access Policy
A new proposal from the National Institutes of Health would require all published scientific articles based on taxpayer-funded research to be publicly available for free. Currently, scientific journals publish the studies, which can only be accessed by subscriptions or through an academic institution that has its own subscription.
Status: The NIH proposal is open for a 60-day comment period.
Source: Alliance for Taxpayer Access
Action: Send a letter to Congress.


Satellite Imagery FOIA Exemption
A proposed Freedom of Information Act exemption, restricting public access to satellite images and related data will be considered this month in conference. The Senate already approved the measure, which would prohibit disclosure of any commercial satellite images or any products derived from the data. This broad exclusion would threaten significant amounts of unclassified data that journalists, public interest groups, scientist, and the public use routinely.
Status: After the Senate passed S. 2400, which contained the provision, the Senate incorporated S. 2400 in H.R. 4200 as an amendment. H.R. 4200 is currently in House-Senate conference.
Source: Secrecy News, Sept. 7, 2004.
Action: Ask Congress to drop the FOIA exemption.


Independent Classification Board
Legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to create an Independent National Security Classification Board in the executive branch.
Status: S.2672 has been referred to the Committee on Intelligence. H.R.4855 was referred to the House Committee on Intelligence.
Action: Send a letter to Congress in support of a classification board!


Patriot Act: Reversing the Patriot Act
The Civil Liberties Restoration Act 2004 (S. 2528) would end secret hearings, ensure due process for detained individuals, limit secret seizures of records, and limit the use of secret evidence.
Status: Introduced by members of the House and Senate June 16, and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: Text of the bill, June 16, 2004. A bill analysis & talking points is available from the Rights Working Group.
Action: Organizations can add their name to this letter and individuals can send a letter to Congress.


Should trains identify hazardous materials? Tom Ridge wants input
Despite their own study concluding the current system works, the Department of Homeland Security wants to know if railcars should continue to identify whether their contents are hazardous. Quickly identifying hazards is critical to saving lives in an accident involving hazardous chemicals.
Status: The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comment on the proposal through October 18, 2004.
Action: Read the proposal. Note: Check these updates for a sample letter to be posted as soon as the government begins accepting public comment through its electronic docket system.


Sensitive Security Information (SSI): Federalism v. Secrecy
The Senate pushed to pre-empt state and local sunshine laws in order to mandate secrecy about public safety problems in aviation, rail and other transportation systems.
Status: The administration-sponsored secrecy provisions were in the Senate-passed version of the $350 billion transportation bill (H.R. 3550); the version passed by the House lacks them. Currently in conference.
Action: Send a letter through the American Library Association action alert.



[new] Waxman Introduces Bill to Fix Secrecy Policies
Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced legislation to restore open government on several fronts. The Restore Open Government Act of 2004 would restore the presumption of disclosure, ease public oversight of critical infrastructure safeguards, restore historians’ access to presidential records, address excessive overclassification, and eases challenging agencies that are improperly withholding information.
Status: The bill was introduced on 9/14/04.
Source: House Committee on Government Reform Minority Office


Patriot Act: Extending Patriot Act
H.R. 3179, introduced by Reps. Sensenbrenner and Goss, includes several sections of Patriot II. After opposition from many groups coordinated by the Rights Working Group, H.R. 3179 was not added to the intelligence authorization bill (S. 2386) during a closed mark-up session on June 16th.
Status: May come up as a floor amendment to the intelligence authorization bill in the Senate.
Source: Bill of Rights Defense Committee.


Patriot Act: Patriot Act Sunsets
On May 21, ten senators introduced a bill, S. 2476, that would make permanent many provisions of the Patriot Act scheduled to sunset next year.
Status: The bill is referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Source: THOMAS.


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News Highlights



Looking for authors! The Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service distributes op-ed opinion pieces on any topic related to freedom of information. The op-eds may be published freely as long as the author is credited. To view the latest op-ed as well as all pieces in the series, go to Knight Ridder/Tribune. Pieces should be 700 words in length and sent to Ray Walker at rwalker@krtinfo.com and oped@krtinfo.com. Please also let us know if you submit a piece!


Reporters Committee Releases 5th Edition of War Report
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press released the 5th Edition of its "White Paper" chronicling the effects the War on Terrorism has had on the public’s right to know.


Too much secrecy: Overclassification hampers cooperation
Many sources indicate that one of the biggest problems in tracking terrorists before the 9/11 attacks was government secrecy.
[Federal Times Sept. 13, 2004]


Court ruling deals setback to secrecy
A North Carolina court of appeals recently found that only members of the public are entitled to initiate judicial action seeking enforcement of their information requests, as the state’s open government laws do not allow local governments to initiate judicial action declaring its efforts to keep information from the public legal.
[Daily News Sept. 13, 2004]


Veil of secrecy to lift on drug tests
Pressure is mounting to reform the pharmaceutical industry so that the results of clinical drug trials are available to the public. Many have endorsed a public registry of drug trials.
[Christian Science Monitor Sept. 13, 2004]


FDA Urged Withholding Data on Antidepressants: Makers Were Dissuaded From Labeling Drugs as Ineffective in Children
Government regulators pressured antidepressant manufacturers not to disclose clinical trials’ results that indicate the effectiveness of the medications in children were no better than sugar pills.
[Washington Post Sept. 10, 2004]


Hiding Genome Data Won’t Protect Us, Experts Say
Scientists on a National Research Council committee found that making the genetic codes of dangerous pathogens a secret will not save anyone from bioterrorism. In fact, it may make the population vulnerable to natural attacks from pathogens.
[Reuters Sept. 9, 2004]


Whistleblowers Call for Disclosure of Government’s Iraq Deceit; Ellsberg, Former CIA, FBI Officials Say Americans Need Full Disclosure of Lies, Cover-ups, and War’s Projected Costs in Livesand Dollars
Former government officials are calling for the disclosure of classified information that is being wrongly withheld.
[U.S. Newswire Sept. 9, 2004]


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