Border Wall bill contains FOIA exemption for building wall, maintaining border

The revised draft of the Border Security for America Act of 2017 (H.R. 3548), to be considered by the House Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as soon as today,  would shield from public scrutiny and accountability ongoing law enforcement activities along the border. The Freedom of Information Act is one of dozens of laws that would not apply to border activities, including construction and maintenance of the border wall and ongoing efforts to stop illegal border crossings. As Kevin Goldberg writes for the American Society of News Editors (an NMOG member), the impact would be broad: The public and press would [More]

Pentagon (again) seeks help from Congress to keep tactics secret

Pentagon hopes Congress will protect tactics, techniques and procedures from disclosure. Military also seeks to protect rules of engagement. Public interest in disclosure could outweigh confidentality, but military gets to decide in Pentagon’s proposal. Defense Department is hoping the third time’s the charm as it once again asks for the authority to withhold from the public certain military tactics, techniques and procedures , the disclosure of which would give an adversary an advantage. The proposal (Sec. 1003 of DoD’s draft legislation), which the Defense Department would like included in the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018, is narrower than [More]

Last-minute change to cybersecurity bill may extend secrecy to government analyses

State and local governments would not be able to disclose to the public analysis and concerns related to cybersecurity under a proposed agreement on cybersecurity legislation reportedly being pushed by the House and Senate intelligence committees. A two-word change would mean state and local governments would have to keep secret information the governments generate themselves, adding to a secrecy provision already in the legislation that already requires governments to shield from disclosure information shared by the private sector. SGI sent a letter on December 15, 2015 objecting to the change.

SGI letter on cybersecurity disclosure exemption

[Note: PDF version]   December 15, 2015 The media associations in the Sunshine in Government Initiative oppose a reported change to cybersecurity legislation that would effectively prevent access to any analysis or assessments of cybersecurity threats – whether classified or not – by state and local governments.  These changes, which we understand to be drafted by the House and Senate intelligence committees and submitted to the conference committee almost entirely in secret, are not the way legislation should be enacted and could actually endanger our nation’s infrastructure by impeding government and public oversight of responses to cybersecurity threats. Unfortunately, we [More]

Cybersecurity doesn’t need a FOIA exemption

We support Senator Leahy’s efforts to remove a proposed statutory exemption to disclosure under FOIA from the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA). The Leahy amendment would keep intact generous protections for the private sector to share information with the government that currently exist in FOIA and in other parts of CISA itself. The Leahy amendment prevents harm to the balanced protections already in FOIA for transparency and accountability on one hand and interests such as trade secrecy, personal privacy on the other. Read our letter.

Two cheers for Congress: the end of a b(3)

Buried in the middle of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was a pleasant surprise for us: Section 1078, rescinding a statutory exemption to the Freedom of Information Act (or, as we call it, a “b(3)” – after the section of FOIA permitting them), repealed much of the “Smith-Mundt Act”. And earlier this month, this b(3) officially expired. The United States created the Voice of America during the Cold War to let news programs reach people whose political leaders restricted the press. Amidst concerns that U.S. propaganda might influence domestic policy debates, Congress banned distribution of that programming within [More]

Farm Bill Update: Showdown looms on FOIA’s balanced protections versus special interest

Senator Charles Grassley is again poised — as soon as today, although the timing is far from clear — to present a broad exemption that would set a bad precedent for the administration of FOIA.  We recently wrote about our temporary win. The proposal would exempt from disclosure the GPS coordinates of farms as well as basic contact information for owners and operators of farms and food processing facilities. Such entities are corporations, although Sen. Grassley and others are arguing that these locations are both businesses and individual residences, thus they deserve special privacy protections. We strongly believe that the [More]

Successful fight to stop farm bill secrecy — for now

Senator Patrick Leahy and open government groups have stopped at least for now the Grassley amendment that would bar disclosure of basic phone directory information for owners and operators of livestock and poultry processing facilities and farms.  We explained our concerns about the provision quickly, other groups weighed in as well, and Senator Leahy’s worked diligently to explain the ramifications of this seeming milquetoast provision to his colleagues, and it became clearer that the proposal had problems.  We appreciate the delay to afford open government groups the opportunity to work with Senators Grassley and Boxer to find a better approach [More]