Policy and News Updates for September 14, 2005

Italics indicates new or updated news
Email your tips and updates to info@openthegovernment.org

Action Item–Tell Your FOIA Story!

OpenTheGovernment.org is collecting stories on the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If you have an experience using FOIA–anything from delayed responses to costly appeals–please share it with us. We will be compiling stories to show how the law is being used, and to further educate leaders about the need to improve the law.
Please tell us your story by email.

Policy Updates

[new] Hurricane Katrina response

As President Bush signed an aid package worth $51.8 billion for Hurricane Katrina victims (H.R 3673), political leaders investigate the deficient federal government response. The EPA, meanwhile, hasn’t released an account of the toxins and environmental health hazards in the flooded areas. In a victory for openness, the Bush administration agreed to allow the media to take pictures of recovered bodies after CNN challenged the administration in court.

Sources: Text of H.R. 3673 ; Senate Panel Opens Katrina Response Probe; See an OMB Watch list of toxic chemical sites in New Orleans; Feds Drop Media Ban on Katrina Recovery
Action: Demand EPA honesty on environmental aftermath from Hurricane Katrina

Federal shield laws: Protecting journalists and their confidential sources
S. 340 and H.R 581 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
Action: Sign the Free Press petition to support these bills.

[updated] PATRIOT Act: House votes for renewal, Senate passes bill
The House and Senate members may meet September 16 to resolve difference in PATRIOT Act legislation. 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 may meet September 16.

Sources: H.R. 3199; S. 1389; Bill of Rights Defense Committee summary; Text of Senate vote; Campaign for Reader Privacy”>
Alert: Protect libraries and booksellers from Sec. 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

Reporters Committee releases 6th edition of war report
On September 9, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) released the 6th edition of its “White Paper” that gives a timeline of government secrecy since 9/11. The report is called “Homefront Confidential: How the War on Terrorism Affects Access to Information and the Public’s Right to Know.”

League of Women Voters releases report
The League of Women Voters (LWV) released the findings and recommendations from its Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities project. Local Voices is a multi-faceted initiative to foster a public dialogue about the balance between civil liberties and homeland security, and share the results with decision-makers. View the summary (with a link to the report).

Society of Environmental Journalists issues report on FOIA
The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) released a report on September 12 called “A Flawed Tool: Environmental Reporters’ Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act.” Read the report (PDF).

Journalist group publishes FOIA study
Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG) published an analysis of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in August. The report provides a detailed look at the government-wide performance of federal agencies in handling FOIA requests and a statistical review of FOIA litigation over the past six years. Several of our coalition partners are members of CJOG. View the analysis (PDF).