Policy and News Updates for September 21, 2004

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 Policy Updates

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

 
[new]Patriot Act: SAFE Act
The Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act is a bipartisan bill that would amend the USA PATRIOT Act in order to protect civil liberties that have been violated by the Patriot Act. This includes amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and revising provisions governing search warrants authorized under the Patriot Act.
Status: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the SAFE Act this Wednesday, Sept. 22.
Action: Contact Congress and sign the Campaign for Reader Privacy petition.

 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

 [updated]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 until Nov. 3.
Source: Alliance for Taxpayer Access
Action: Send a letter to Congress.

 [updated]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. Compromise language has been proposed that would eliminate the broad language.
Source: Secrecy News, Sept. 7, 2004
Action: Ask Congress to drop the FOIA exemption.

 

[updated]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. The White House recently announced the names of five persons who will be appointed to a new Public Interest Declassification Board, created in statute four years ago but left dormant. This Board could overlap with S. 2672.
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.

 [updated]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 or read comments filed by others. Select "Comments/submissions" to file your own comments. Note: Check these updates for a sample letter to be posted.

 [updated]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. The General Accountability Office accepted a request from two House members to investigate TSA and DHS’s use of the SSI provision.
Action: Send a letter through the American Library Association action alert.

 Warning

[updated]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 (H.R. 5073) 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 and was referred to the Government Reform and Homeland Security Committees.
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

 
For other policies that OpenTheGovernment.org is watching, please visit our compendium.

 In the Issues section of OpenTheGovernment.org, website, you can find background information on the four issues that OpenTheGovernment.org focuses on — democracy, public trust and accountability, environmental health and safety, and national security. Learn some of the history of the issues, why they are necessary for an open government, and what are the related government policies.

 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!

 Californians to vote on bid to make government more open
Californians will vote on a ballot measure, Proposition 59, that would amend the state’s constitution to require judges to interpret state law broadly for access to documents and meetings.
[Associated Press Sept. 19, 2004]

 CIA refuses to release historical budget data
The acting CIA director told a federal court he will not release historical budget information for the intelligence community and is missing old budget data from some agencies.
[GovExec.com Sept. 17, 2004]

 Department of Justice Ordered to Stop Withholding Records From the Public
A federal appeals court ordered the release of data on firearms’ sales and on tracing of firearms recovered by law enforcement.
[PRNewswire Sept. 17, 2004]

 Review of Nuclear Plant Security Is Faulted
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Nuclear is pushing nuclear power plants to increase security to defend against large-scale attacks. A possible conflict of interest, and delays in reporting leave questions to whether current plans will succeed.
[New York Times Sept. 15, 2004]

 Press Reports on U.S. Casualties: About 17,000 Short, UPI Says
Almost 17,000 service members medically evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan are not reported in Pentagon casualty numbers, according to United Press International.
[AP via truthout Sept. 15, 2004]

 Federal Court Orders Government to Release or Identify All Documents Related to Abuse of Detainees in U.S. Custody by October 15
A federal court judge ordered the government to provide all documents on the treatment of prisoners held by the United States overseas within 30 days.
[ACLU Sept. 15, 2004]

 Erasure of Scalia Speech Said Wrong
The government admitted that the U.S. Marshals Service violated federal law after a marshal forced reporters to erase recordings of a Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speech.
[Associated Press Sept. 14, 2004]

 
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