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Senate bill aims to limit homeland security secrecy

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         March 15, 2005    

Senate bill aims to limit homeland security secrecy

  • The “Restore FOIA Act” would change the secrecy provisions of the 2002 Homeland Security Act.

March 15, 2005 — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reintroduced a bill Tuesday intended to “restore integrity” to the Freedom of Information Act by limiting the scope of the secrecy provisions in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

The “Restore FOIA Act,”co-sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), would amend the Homeland Security Act by limiting the mandatory protection from FOI Act requests given to records submitted to the government by private entities.

The Homeland Security Act would still offer some protection to “critical infrastructure information,” according to Leahy’s office. CII is information about telecommunications, banks, dams, water and sewer plants, nuclear power plants, ports, public utilities and other entities necessary to the nation’s well-being which, if incapacitated or destroyed, could jeopardize security, public health or safety.

The Homeland Security Act “undermines federal and state sunshine laws permitting the American people to know what their government is doing,” Leahy said Tuesday on the House floor. “‘Restore FOIA’ protects Americans’ right to know while simultaneously providing security to those in the private sector who voluntarily submit critical infrastructure records.”

According to the press release, the “Restore FOIA Act” also calls for government oversight and enhanced whistleblower protection. It would curtail the civil immunity automatically available to companies which submit information, acknowledge state FOI laws and give Congress the freedom to use critical infrastructure information.

Leahy cited the “day-to-day importance” of the legislation during his remarks on the House floor Tuesday by giving examples of two newspapers, the Bremerton (Washington) Sun and the St. Petersburg Times, whose FOI Act requests led to stories which helped shed light on national security issues.

Leahy has cosponsored two other FOI bills in the Senate, the “OPEN the Government Act” and the “Faster FOIA Act.” Both bills were co-sponsored and introduced with Leahy by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

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