Rushing Leaks Legislation through Congress Threatens Openness and Accountability

UPDATED: WASHINGTON, D.C. – Advocates for open and accountable government are warning the leadership of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees not to follow through on their current plan to rush a bill to address recent leaks of classified national security information. Doing so would run a real risk of writing into law policies that not only do not work but also endanger other critical national priorities.

Legislation to address leaks of classified information necessarily will touch on complex questions that require careful consideration. One key issue is the tension between protecting the US’ legitimate secrets and ensuring the public has enough information to understand and have a healthy democratic debate about federal government programs. Any legislation in this area also must protect people who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government, and ensure there are safe channels for lawful disclosures of wrongdoing.

Input from the public and experts in the field is necessary to ensure that any legislation intended to stop leaks of classified national security information protects the interests of an open government and informed public.

“It’s not clear Congress needs to pass legislation. There are already criminal and civil penalties in place for making unauthorized disclosures of properly classified legislation,” said Patrice McDermott, Executive Director at OpenTheGovernment.org. “While the goal of protecting legitimate secrets is honorable, poorly considered legislation could make it easier for people in the government to keep a lid on information that is embarrassing or proves illegality.”

During a press conference last week, leadership of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees outlined a plan to attach language to address recent leaks of classified national security information to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 intelligence reauthorization bill. The House-passed version does not include the language; the plan requires the Senate to include the language in its version and for leadership to ensure the language is included in the final conference package.

The Intelligence Committees must take the time to fully understand not only the problem but the implications of any proposed fixes.

***UPDATE***

On June 16, 30 organizations joined in signing a letter to the leadership of the Seante and House Intelligence Committees urging them to protect the interests of an open government and informed public in any legislation to address the leaks of highly classified information. Download the letter here.

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