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Legislative Update

From the Spring 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33.

From the Spring 2000 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33.

The Reporters Committee reports each spring on legislative proposals considered by the U.S. Congress that would affect the Freedom of Information and First Amendment rights of the news media. The report, which is by no means comprehensive, highlights some of the issues raised by lawmakers.

Freedom of Information

A frighteningly broad exemption to the Freedom of Information Act has been proposed by Virginia congressmen Rep. Tom Davies (R-Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.), whose constituents include high tech industries near the Washington, D.C., beltway. The Cyber Security Information Act would protect information about the “critical infrastructure” — defined as facilities that, if disrupted, incapacitated or destroyed, would have a debilitating impact on defense, security, prosperity or health.

The measure would allow industry to insist that information it shares with the government for the purpose of combating “cyberattacks” by any source — mischievous teenagers, criminals or foreign governments — would not be subject to the FOI Act. The measure is prompted by fears of private companies that hackers could cripple their operations, coupled with a strong reticence against sharing information about their vulnerabilities with either their competitors or government agencies, and by concerns by the lawmakers that the government would not be privy to the information the companies can provide. The bill apparently also would allow government to share information about defense, law enforcement or international security with trusted private companies, while exempting the same information from FOI disclosures. (H.R. 4262)

Fear of the Internet has triggered numerous proposals. The seemingly ominous capability of the Internet to provide information quickly and well — and to make information useful — means to many lawmakers that, down the line, someone might learn something that Congress thinks they should not.

Fear of the Internet prompted passage of “worst-case scenario” legislation in August as Congress back pedaled on the openness requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1990 and voted to prohibit posting of details of the chemical environmental hazards posed by manufacturers. They had been required to let communities know what kinds of manufacturing accidents could occur in a worst-case scenario involving the chemicals they used or produced.

After the Environmental Protection Agency offered to help states make the information public, the FBI warned that terrorists might seek out and use the information and cause mass destruction. Congress enacted the Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act to prevent Internet access. The new law exempts the information from the FOI Act for one year while directing EPA to post new rules restricting information access.

EPA and the Department of Justice jointly posted proposed implementing rules in April that restrict availability of the information to 50 government reading rooms around the country open only to people who first show identification in order to see the records. Local fire departments and other agencies could also set up additional reading rooms if they choose to do so. (Pub. L. 106-40)

Numerous bills would create privacy rights in database information.

While the U.S. Supreme Court was reviewing the Drivers Privacy Protection Act’s requirements that states limit the disclosure of personal information in state department of motor vehicle records, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) added a short amendment to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Appropriations Act that closed off driver records to an extent not intended by authors of the original bill. Shelby’s measure, enacted in October, changed the DPPA from one that allowed drivers to “opt out” of having information in driver records disclosed to one that closed the records unless an individual had signed an “opt in” provision. The high court noted Shelby’s measure in its decision that the federal government can indeed constitutionally regulate access to state driver records. Many states will have to redraft laws on disclosure of DMV records, laws that already had to be changed under the DPPA. (Pub. L. 106-69)

Medical privacy bills have cropped up in abundance in the last several years but comprehensive laws to make patient records more secret have not been passed. In 1996, Congress passed legislation requiring the Executive Branch to develop medical privacy rules if legislation had not been enacted in 1999.

The Department of Health and Human Services proposed rules in November that drew 66,000 responses. In separate comments, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists urged the government to consider less stringent measures for locking up medical information and pointed out that journalists who cannot get information, sometimes even sensitive medical information, cannot perform their roles of informing the public about issues of strong public concern. The two news groups especially urged the government to relax stringent proposals to restrain and penalize hospital personnel — even public information officers — from commenting even generally on patient status until patient consent forms are signed.

Bills that would give individuals access to their own medical information and penalize misuse of information by medical professionals were introduced last year by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), but have not been acted upon. (S. 573, H.R. 1057)

A bill by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) to force the Federal Trade Commission to regulate protections of personal privacy of information collected on the Internet has seen no action since July. (S. 809)

Two Privacy Commission proposals are before Congress.

The most recent, a measure by Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ariz.), finds that as the country’s economy moves from an industry focus to an information focus, it has created new privacy concerns. There are reports of “surreptitious collection of consumer data by [I]nternet marketers,” according to the bill’s findings, along with rising concern over confidentiality of medical and financial records. Hutchinson would establish a “Commission for the Comprehensive Study of Privacy Protection” to study monitoring, collection and distribution of personal information both by private entities and by the government. Most members would be appointed by the President, and majority and minority Senate and House leaders. (H.R. 4049)

Sen. Herbert Kohl (R.-Wis.) raised the commission idea in November, calling for a similarly appointed group chosen for their expertise in any of several areas including telecommunications, media or information technology. Kohl’s bill calls for an examination of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996, but the purposes it outlines are clearly to discern the need for legislated privacy protections. (S.1901)

In February, two groups of congressmen convened to advocate privacy. Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) announced the formation of the Senate Democratic Privacy Task Force to be chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) announced formation of the bicameral, bi-partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus to advocate more personal privacy. Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.), Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) joined Shelby as co-chairs.

The “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” would displace the FOI Act altogether for tax records, protecting proprietary interests of companies as well as individual tax returns. Individuals’ tax information is already protected by a powerful statutory exemption to the FOI Act but the bill introduced by Rep. Amory Houghton (R-N.Y.) — which passed the House 424-0 — would govern disclosure of tax records of both individuals and businesses. (H.R. 4123)

Last year, in response to a lawsuit by the Bureau of National Affairs, the IRS conceded that it must release decisions it reached with private companies on advance pricing agreements. Houghton introduced a bill that would make that information confidential again. (H.R. 2378) That mandate for confidential pricing agreements with companies was substantially incorporated into the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act. (Pub. L. 106-170)

Congressmen threatened early this year to revoke the Shelby Amendment enacted in an appropriations measure late in the 105th Congress. Sen. Richard Shelby (D-Ala.), irritated that he had not been able to get underlying research data from the Environmental Protection Agency, was the author of a measure that required that information regarding federal grants would be subject to the FOI Act. The measure did not require disclosure — it only made the information subject to the FOI Act to which exemptions are claimed often and well — but it was roundly criticized by academicians and scientists. They claimed that under the new law their privacy would be invaded and their research purloined. The law required the Office of Management and Budget to issue implementing rules. The rules it adopted this year apparently so strictly limited public access to the data, that Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) and Rep. James Walsh (D-N.Y.) abandoned plans they had announced to introduce legislation to eliminate that disclosure mandate.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) in February asked the General Accounting Office to assess federal agency compliance with the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996. The senators outlined the act’s requirements for making government information available electronically and additionally asked GAO to investigate agency delays in responding to FOI requesters.

Classification

The President’s Executive Order on Classification of 1995 promised to reverse many years of rampant overclassification of government documents. A report issued in late 1999 by the Information Security Oversight Office, the office charged with overseeing classification of records, indicated that declassification efforts were succeeding. The report showed that between 1995 and 1998, the government declassified 200 million pages per year.

Those sunshine years may not be repeated. Congress has set up roadblocks. The Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 requires officials to review many of the declassified records to determine if nuclear weapons information has inadvertently reached the public. It also requires the Defense Department to limit funds expended on classification and to report on its future abilities to comply with the Executive Order. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) is the principal author of that requirement.

The act also provides for categorizing files of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency under the “operational files” exclusion of the Freedom of Information Act. The exclusion language in the FOI Act has since 1986 protected operational files created under the National Security Act from even being considered for disclosure under the FOI Act. Agencies usually claim to FOI requesters that files that fall within the exclusion do not exist.

The most ominous feature of this appropriations act is a new section of the Atomic Energy Act which would penalize contractors not only for failing to safeguard Restricted Data, as defined in the act and classified data, defined by the Executive Order on classification, but also for failing to safeguard “sensitive information.” The Department of Energy’s general counsel deferred issuing any guidance on interpreting “sensitive information” until the department could get a “clear definition of the term,” noting that neither the act nor any existing regulations define “sensitive information.” (Pub. L. 106-65)

Congress would authorize withholding the nebulous “certain sensitive information” under language proposed by the Department of Defense in April for the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, but many diverse public interest groups have contacted Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to protest the provision. The information would be withheld under Exemption 3 to the FOI Act, which allows the government to withhold records made secret by other laws. The proposal would protect information simply because it is provided in confidence by a foreign government.

Special declassification laws have freed up information on political assassinations and on Nazi War Crimes in the recent past. An active bill in the House calls for similar expedited declassification of records of human rights abuses in Guatemala, Honduras and other regions. (H.R. 1625)

Measures in both Houses would require affirmative disclosure under the FOI Act of records of the Japanese Imperial Army. (H.R. 3561, S. 1902)

Records of “extraordinary public interest” would be selected and made public by a declassification board of the National Archives and Records Administration under bills introduced in the fall by Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). (H.R. 3152, S. 1801)

Senator Moynihan’s bill, which he introduced last year intending to combat too much government secrecy by switching authority for classification and declassification from the executive to the legislative branch, captured a great deal of interest in the first session of this Congress but has not been given further consideration this year. (S. 22)

Internet

The Secure Online Communication Enforcement Act of 2000 was introducedby Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) in the House and Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) in the Senate. The act would authorize a governmental entity to require a provider of remote computing services to disclose the contents of an electronic communication under a federal or state criminal search warrant or trial subpoena. Included within the scope of the required disclosure is information generated in the process of accessing the Internet. The House version of the bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime; the Senate version has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. (H.R. 3770, S. 2063)

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) introduced the E-Mail User Protection Act, which makes it unlawful for any person to send a bulk e-mail message with a false sender name, address or phone number, send bulk messages to someone who had requested that they not receive such messages, and use, create, sell, or distribute any computer software that is primarily designed to create false identifier information. (H.R. 1910)

In a similar vein, Rep. Gary Miller (R.-Cal.) introduced the Can Spam Act, which is designed to prohibit any person from sending unsolicited commercial e-mail in violation of a posted policy of any service provider. Like the E-Mail User Protection Act, the bill was referred to the House Commerce and Judiciary Committees. (H.R. 2162)

A similar Senate bill — the Inbox Privacy Act of 1999 — was introduced by Sen. Frank Murkowski (R.-Ark.) and remains in that body’s Commerce Committee. (S. 759)

The Children’s Internet Protection Act, introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would force schools and libraries to install filtering devices on computers with Internet access to be eligible to receive or retain universal service assistance. Libraries would have to certify to the Federal Communications Commission that they (1) have selected a technology for such computers that filters or blocks access to material that is obscene and to child pornography and (2) are enforcing a policy to ensure the filters are applied during any use of computers by minors. The bill has been reported out of McCain’s Commerce Committee and has been placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar. (S. 97)

Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.) introduced a similar bill in the House that would obligate schools and libraries to implement a filtering system even if they had already received universal service assistance. It would also force institutions without filters to compensate the government with back pay for the period they had funding, but were not in compliance with filtering requirements. The bill allows for alternative filtering measures for libraries with only one terminal. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime. (H.R. 543)

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) introduced the Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act, which was referred to the Commerce Committee. The bill directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to initiate a notice and comment proceeding for evaluating whether commercial Internet blocking and filtering software addresses the needs of educational institutions, recommend how to foster the development of products that meet such needs, and evaluate the development and effectiveness of local Internet use policies that are currently in operation after community input. (S. 1545)

Both houses passed a resolution initially introduced by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Cal.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that urged the President to seek a permanent international ban on tariffs on electronic commerce, and instructed U.S. delegations to international conferences and meetings to make permanent the moratorium on tariffs on electronic transmissions and to oppose any proposal to establish a “bit tax” on electronic transmissions. (H. Con. Res. 190, S. Con. Res. 58)

Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) introduced a bill to amend the Internet Tax Freedom Act to make permanent and extend its moratorium on certain taxes. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary and Ways and Means committees. (H.R. 3252)

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R.-Ill.) also introduced a bill to amend the Internet Tax Freedom Act to impose a permanent moratorium on state and local taxes on Internet access, to extend for five years the duration of the moratorium applicable to multiple and discriminatory taxes on the electronic commerce, to impose a five-year moratorium on sales of digitized goods and products (and their counterparts), and to encourage states to adopt a Uniform Sales and Use Tax. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee. (H.R. 4267)

On the Senate side, McCain introduced a bill to amend the Internet Tax Freedom Act to extend the tax moratorium through calendar year 2006. The bill was referred to the Commerce Committee. (S. 2255)

Broadcast and Cable

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) in March introduced the Children’s Protection Act of 2000, intended to shield children from “violent programming.” Finding that Americans, particularly parents, “remain angry and frustrated” at “sinking standards,” the bill states that the television industry’s voluntary guidelines and rating system are inadequate to protect children. The bill calls upon the entertainment industry to develop voluntary programming guidelines to alleviate the negative impact of television programming, movies, video games and music lyrics on the development of children in the United States. A similar bill was introduced in the House in 1999 by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas.). (S. 2127, H.R. 1855)

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) also introduced a bill in May that would require the entertainment industry to adopt a mandatory, uniform rating scheme for “video games, video programs, movies and music.” Companies that do not comply within one year would not be allowed to sell their products.

“The producers of these products have a moral obligation to inform consumers of violent content. What this legislation does is impose a legal requirement to do so.” A similar bill had been introduced by Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). (S. 2497, H.R. 2248)

Most bills this session concerning broadcasting deal with regulation of noncommercial and low-power broadcast stations.

The Noncommercial Broadcasting Freedom of Expression Act of 2000, introduced in the House in early April by Rep. Charles Pickering (R-Miss.), restricts the FCC from ruling that religious broadcasting does not fulfill a nonprofit station’s public service requirements or from making other similar content-based determinations. (H.R. 4201)

Rep. Micheal Oxley (R-Ohio) introduced a similar bill, entitled the Religious Broadcasting Freedom Act, to require the FCC to follow normal rulemaking procedures in establishing additional requirements for noncommercial educational television broadcasters. (H.R. 3525)

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) introduced similar bills to curb FCC regulation of religious speech on noncommercial educational television stations, stating that broadcasters should be free to engage in any type of religious speech without fear of adverse governmental actions. (S. 2010, S. 2215)

The House passed the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000 in mid-April. The act would require the FCC to revise new regulations that authorize operation of low-powered FM radio licenses. The FCC also would be required to conduct experimental programs and field tests on low-powered signals and publish the results for public comment. The FCC had intended to begin licensing stations in April, but the action has been delayed by congressional action prompted by the broadcasting industry’s arguments that new low-power stations will interfere with traditional radio station signals. (H.R. 3439, S. 2068)

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) reintroduced bills in March 1999 that would allow federal judges to permit photography, electronic recording, broadcasting or televising in federal courtrooms. No action has been taken on either bill. (H.R. 1281, S. 721)

Intellectual Property

People who break the copyright laws face stiffer penalties under the only major copyright amendments signed into law in 1999. The 106th Congress, however, is considering several other copyright initiatives, but none have yet been approved.

The Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Act of 1999 increases the amount of statutory damages copyright holders can receive from copyright infringers. The minimum damages available have been boosted to $750 from $500, and the maximum damages to $30,000 from $20,000. People who willfully infringe upon someone else’s copyright may be liable for $150,000 in additional punitive damages, up from $100,000. President Clinton signed the measure into law in December. (Pub. L. No. 106-160)

The controversial Collections of Information Antipiracy Act, which would grant broad copyright protection to databases, has worked its way out of the Judiciary Committee and is expected to be taken up by the full House later this year. The bill would allow databases, merely as collections of information, to receive copyright protection against misappropriation.

Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property, said in an introductory statement that the bill was necessary to “prohibit the misappropriation of valuable commercial collections of information by unscrupulous competitors who grab data collected by others, repackage it and market a product that threatens competitive injury to the original collection.”

Copyright law, however, traditionally protects creative expression, not the effort expended in gathering information. Opponents to the legislation fear the bill is designed only to protect businesses and may lead to monopolies on information.

A similar effort in the last Congress passed the House but failed to clear the Senate. Coble reintroduced the legislation in January 1999. Most significantly for the news media, the bill contains a limited exception permitting database use for news reporting unless the information is “time sensitive” and “the extraction or use is part of a consistent pattern engaged in for the purpose of direct competition.” The exception, which purports to protect news interests, would allow the use of facts from a database but not wholesale lifting of a competing news service’s materials.

The bill excludes most government databases from copyright protection but would protect some financial information collected under the Securities Exchange or the Commodities Exchange Acts. (H.R. 354)

On the same day Coble introduced his plan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced the Trading Information Act, which would amend the Communications Act to ensure that stock market information remains available to the public by any form of mass communication. The proposal is designed to counter possible effects of the Coble bill, which may shut off news media access to database information issued by institutions such as the New York Stock Exchange and prevent media from reconfiguring database information that they already had purchased and received. The Committee on Commerce has not acted on the measure since it was introduced in the Senate in January 1999. (S. 95)

Two bills introduced in this Congress would place certain contingencies on trade and relief aid, including adherence to U.S. intellectual property standards.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act includes a clause limiting the eligibility of sub-Saharan African countries for aid if the President determines that the country is not protecting intellectual property rights. Amended versions of the bill are still working their way through Congress. (H.R. 434)

The other, the Central American and Caribbean Relief Act, grants the President the power to withhold financial support if he determines that the country does not provide “adequate and effective” intellectual property rights. The bill was introduced in the Senate in February 1999 and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, where it has languished. (S. 371)

Campaign Finance

At last count, at least 16 bills have been introduced in Congress that purport to reform the way federal political campaigns are financed. While sponsors of all of the bills claim they will “clean up” the way campaigns are run in this country, several would directly affect the media by requiring broadcast stations to provide free or substantially discounted advertising time. Congress has not taken major action on any of them, however, since mid-year 1999 and they appear to be stalled in various committees.

The bills that would directly impact the media include the “Clean Money, Clean Elections Act” sponsored by Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) and by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). The proposed law would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to give Congressional candidates free radio and television broadcast time during primary and general election campaigns if they qualify as a “clean money candidate.” (S. 982, H.R. 1739)

Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) introduced legislation that would give up to an hour of free broadcast time to candidates who spend no more than $500,000 during the general election cycle. (H.R. 1641)

House of Representatives candidates would be forced to participate in at least two televised debates in their district’s media market to be eligible for public financing under a bill introduced by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.). The bill also requires radio and television stations to accept advertising from political campaigns until such advertising constitutes 40 percent of the station’s total advertising time. (H.R. 331)

David Price (D-N.C.) introduced the Stand By Your Ad Act, which would require that ads for or against a candidate in a federal election identify the sponsor and state whether the candidate authorized the ad. (H.R. 227)

Newsgathering & Privacy

Both houses are considering bills that would further restrict the taping and disclosure of electronic communications.

In the Senate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill in April that would prohibit the recording of a telephone conversation without the consent of all parties. Currently, federal law only requires the consent of one party. (S. 781)

In the House, the Wireless Privacy Enhancement Act of 1999, sponsored by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), would expand the penalties under the current wiretap law to include criminal liability for the “receipt, interception, divulgence, publication, or utilization” of the contents of intercepted electronic communications. Currently the law penalizes only those who “divulge or publish” the same material.

The bill would require the FCC to study how it could “enhance the privacy” of radio frequencies used by police and other “public safety users,” and would also prohibit the modification of any electronic communication devices, such as cell phones and scanners, in a way that would allow the interception of cell phone, pager or other signals. The FCC also would be required to deny authorization for the production of any scanning devices that could receive those signals directly, or that could be “readily altered” to do so. The bill passed the House in February 1999 and was referred to the Senate, where no action has been taken. (H.R.514)

To “ease member consideration of these important concepts,” a bill that otherwise deals with taxation conflicts concerning cellular and other communications services incorporated the entire text of H.R. 514. The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Charles Pickering (R-Miss.), is being considered by the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, as well as the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade, and Consumer Protection, which held hearings in April. (H.R.3489)

Legislation designed to “protect” individuals from “paparazzi” is still active before the House, but no similar bill has yet been introduced in the Senate. The House bill has not been the subject of a hearing, but if passed, the legislation would expose all journalists to greater risk of legal violations in the course of normal newsgathering.

The Personal Privacy Protection Act, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) in January 1999, would impose civil and criminal liabilities for the reckless endangerment or invasion of privacy of an individual resulting from an attempt, successful or unsuccessful, to capture a picture or recording of that person.

A photographer could also face 30 years in prison plus fines if he “persistently follows or chases a person, in a manner that causes that person to have a reasonable fear of bodily injury” and the person dies or is seriously injured as a result. The bill also authorizes civil suits and restraining orders against such photographers. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, but no further action has been taken. (H.R. 97)

A bill that was signed into law in December 1999 makes it illegal to create, sell or possess a “depiction of animal cruelty,” unless the image has “serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.” (Pub. L. No. 106-152)

Freedom of Expression

Efforts to compel a citizen vote for a constitutional amendments to protect the U.S. Flag continued in March with a vote on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) Flag Protection Constitutional Amendment. The resolution, which ultimately would prohibit the physical desecration of the United States flag, passed the House of Representatives with a two-thirds vote last year. The flag amendment has been a Republican priority since 1995, but legislation has yet to pass the Senate. In late March the legislation again failed in a 63-37 vote.. (S.J. Res. 14)

Congress has introduced several bills designed to encourage freedom of speech in other countries.

Congress continues to try to pressure Russia into allowing a free press despite strong governmental control. In 1999, between 250 and 300 lawsuits and other actions were brought by the government against journalists and journalism organizations.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) sponsored a resolution that expresses the necessity for a free press in Russia in order for political and economic change to occur. The resolution was last introduced March 23, 1999 to House Banking and Financial Services. (H.Con.Res.67)

The recent events surrounding the Chechen War have prompted even greater control over how much reporters can see and report of the battle zones. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Andrei Babitsky faced harsh circumstances after his report that shed unfavorable light on Russian military actions in Chechnya. He was subsequently detained by Russian authorities for “conspiracy with Chechen rebels” and later exchanged to the Chechens for three Russian prisoners of war.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Cal.) expressed concern for Babitsky and proposed a resolution to raise awareness of the Russian government’s wrongdoings against a civilian in a conflict zone in violation of the Geneva Conventions as well as its intolerance towards a free press. The resolution was unanimously passed and Babitsky has since been returned. (S.Res.261)

Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) expressed concern over interference with freedom of the press in Peru. Gilman updated the resolution in October 1999 to note that representatives of the United States in Peru and international organizations should make clear the United States’ concerns over threats to democracy and violations of the rule of law in Peru. (H.Res.57)

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) sponsored a resolution urging Cuba to focus on, among other things, freedom of expression. The government of Cuba recently enacted legislation suppressing expression and carrying penalties of up to 30 years for independent journalists, according to the resolution. (H.Res.99)