[Fwd: Policy Post 5.9: Congress Hurries to Limit Public's Right to Know]

Rodent of Unusual Size (Ken.Coar@Golux.Com)
Thu, 20 May 1999 17:58:42 -0400

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It's that dam' T.V. guide again.. :-(

#ken    P-)}

Ken Coar <http://Web.Golux.Com/coar/> Apache Software Foundation <http://www.apache.org/> "Apache Server for Dummies" <http://Web.Golux.Com/coar/ASFD/> --------------D22679C51CEB75F936A8ADF4 Content-Type: message/rfc822 Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit Content-Disposition: inline

Return-Path: <ari@cdt.org> Received: from mail1.panix.com (mail1.panix.com []) by Mail.MeepZor.Com (8.8.7/8.8.7) with ESMTP id RAA17357 for <Ken.Coar@Golux.Com>; Thu, 20 May 1999 17:22:14 -0400 From: ari@cdt.org Received: from (cdtweb@panix.nfs100.access.net []) by mail1.panix.com (8.8.8/8.8.8/PanixM1.3) with SMTP id RAA02714 for Ken.Coar@Golux.Com; Thu, 20 May 1999 17:21:26 -0400 (EDT) Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 17:21:26 -0400 (EDT) Message-Id: <199905202121.RAA02714@mail1.panix.com> To: Ken.Coar@Golux.Com Errors-To: webmaster@cdt.org Subject: Policy Post 5.9: Congress Hurries to Limit Public's Right to Know

======================================================================= C D T P O L I C Y P O S T *********************************************************************** A BRIEFING ON PUBLIC POLICY ISSUES AFFECTING CIVIL LIBERTIES ONLINE from THE CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY *********************************************************************** Volume 5, Number 9 May 20, 1999 =======================================================================

CONTENTS: (1) Congress Hurries to Limit Public's Right to Know (2) Background on Proposals To Limit Public Clean Air Act Information (3) CDT Creates Access to Government Information Resource (4) Subscription Information (5) About the Center for Democracy and Technology

** This document may be redistributed freely with this banner intact ** Excerpts may be re-posted with permission of ari@cdt.org _______________________________________________________________________


The House Commerce Subcommittee on Health and Environment held a hearing yesterday on H.R. 1790, a bill that would impose criminal penalties of up to a year in jail on government officials who make certain environmental data available to the public in electronic format, even though the information must be made available on paper.

The proposal, introduced by Commerce Committee chairman Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. (R-VA) but crafted by the Clinton Administration, is supposed to prevent terrorists from learning through the Internet about the damage to surrounding communities that could be caused by attacking a hazardous chemical plant.

CDT is concerned that the legislation would set an unwise precedent by limiting the release of government information in electronic form, backtracking from advances of the last three years that required disclosure of government information in the format requested by a citizen.

CDT and other advocates of access to government information wrote to Chairman Bliley urging him not to undermine the goals of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA). http://www.cdt.org/righttoknow/ blileyletter.html, However, yesterday's hearing included no testimony from advocates for open government or from experts on federal and state FOIA and open records laws. Democratic members of the committee took the unusual step of calling for a second hearing which will take place next Wednesday, May 26.

Supporters of the bill made it clear that they would like to see the bill enacted into law before June 21.



H.R. 1790 and its Senate counterpart S.880 would amend a section of the Clean Air Act that was designed to make available to the public so-called "worst case scenarios" about potential accidents at chemical plants. The worst case scenarios describe how far the dangerous chemicals in a plant would travel in event of a catastrophe, how many people live in the circle defined by that distance, and what types of public facilities (e.g., schools or hospitals) are within that radius. The compilation and public release of this data were designed to empower local communities by providing the information they need to assess the safety of plants operating in their midst. The data allow concerned citizens to compare the risks to their communities with those affecting other neighborhoods. The worst case data do not include information on where the chemicals are stored, what would cause a release or what site security measures a facility has in place.

Chemical plants are supposed to submit their worst case data to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by June 21, 1999. In recent months, chemical manufacturers and the FBI have said that release of the data increases the potential for a terrorist attack. What specifically worried the FBI was the notion that the information would be posted on the Internet. Yet no terrorist attack has ever taken place on a chemical plant, while hundreds of people (including employees) die every year from chemical plant accidents.

The proposed legislation would allow disclosure of worst case data to the public only on paper. Under the proposal, the data might be made available at some public libraries in electronic form, but librarians would have to monitor patrons to assure that they were not copying the data. Any official that made the information available through any other means would be liable for criminal penalties of up to a year in jail. Supporters of the bill argue that this complicated system would make the information available but create "speed bumps" so that the data would not be posted on the Internet.

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) has drafted a bill that take a much more direct approach: Instead of restricting citizens' ability to find out about hazards in their backyard, Waxman's bill would require greater protections against terrorist attacks at hazardous chemical sites, including buffer zones between hazardous chemical operations and residential areas.

For more information on the public release of worst case scenario information, see the FAQ at http://www.rtk.net/wcs.



Since issues of access to government information have become increasingly important to the Internet community, CDT has built a page for news and related links on the subject - http://www.cdt.org/righttoknow/.

The page contains the latest headlines and links to FOIA aids and will soon contain links to sites making government information available in innovative ways. In the coming months, we hope to expand the site to include an automatic FOIA request system, allowing you to formulate your FOIA requests and submit them directly to government agencies online.

If you have suggestions or comments about what CDT could do to improve citizen access to information through the Internet, send them to ari@cdt.org.



Be sure you are up to date on the latest public policy issues affecting civil liberties! CDT Policy Posts, the regular news publication of the Center for Democracy and Technology, are received by Internet users, industry leaders, policymakers, the news media and activists, and have become the leading source for information about critical free speech and privacy issues affecting the Internet and other interactive communications media.

Contact Ari Schwartz at ari@cdt.org to subscribe, unsubscribe or change your address.



The Center for Democracy and Technology is a non-profit public interest organization based in Washington, DC. The Center's mission is to develop and advocate public policies that advance democratic values and constitutional civil liberties in new computer and communications technologies.

Contacting us:

General information: info@cdt.org World Wide Web: http://www.cdt.org/

Snail Mail: The Center for Democracy and Technology 1634 Eye Street NW * Suite 1100 * Washington, DC 20006 (v) +1.202.637.9800 * (f) +1.202.637.0968

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