Policy and News Updates for September 30, 2005

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Policy Updates

[new] Library group recipient still gagged as PATRIOT Act debate continues
The U.S. Court of Appeals extended a gag order on a library consortium that received a National Security Letter. The Appeals Court is considering a lower court ruling that lifted the gag order. For now, the recipient cannot engage in the debate surrounding the PATRIOT Act.

Status: The court set an expedited schedule for the appeal. The government’s brief is due September 27, the ACLU’s response brief is due October 4, and the reply brief is due October 10.

Sources: Gag Orders Lifted; FBI Can No Longer Silence Discussion of PATRIOT Act, Judge Says ; Learn more from the ACLU

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] 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; Protect libraries and booksellers from Sec. 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

[updated] Hurricane Katrina response
As the hurricane response progresses, open assessment of what went wrong is critical to making the public safer. The EPA still hasn’t released a comprehensive account of toxins and environmental hazards in the flooded areas. Despite the start of a Congressional inquiry into the hurricane response, the public still supports an open investigation modeled after the 9/11 Commission. Hearings and investigations in the House and Senate began this month.
Sources: See an OMB Watch list of toxic chemical sites in New Orleans; Bush may find it hard to resist Katrina commission ; Senate Panel Opens Katrina Response Probe; USA Today/CNN Gallup Poll showing support for an independent investigation;

See 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.

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; Sign the Free Press petition to support these bills.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

The House Committee on Government Reform publishes guide to FOIA
See the latest version (pdf) of “A Citizen’s Guide On Using the Freedom of Information Act” published by the House Committee on Government Reform.