2006 FOI update: in Congress
2006 National FOI Day Conference
By Kevin Goldberg
For the first time in recent years, the focus in 2005 was on forward-looking
legislation that would make FOIA better, faster and stronger instead of seeking
to withdraw records from public access. Rather than seeking to punish
journalists, Congress was actually considering granting them a privilege that
would allow them to do their jobs unfettered by courts and prosecutors, special
High-profile hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee gave way to
serious talking points and urgent meetings designed simply to preserve the
status quo. In the end, the only positive sign was that legislation granting an
unprecedented exemption applying to all information and advisory-committee
meetings of a proposed new agency within the Department of Health and Human
Services would be narrowed. And even the extent of those revisions is
A summary of the federal legislation affecting open government follows.
Openness promotes effectiveness
National FOI Day 2005 was met with
considerable optimism for the first time in recent memory. That was because of
the recent introduction of the Open Government Act (S. 394 and H.R. 867) in each
chamber of Congress and the hearing held in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security during Sunshine
The bill was introduced by Sens. Cornyn (R-Texas) and Leahy (D-Vt.) in the
Senate as S. 394 and by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) as H.R. 867 in the House.
This bill represents a major step forward. It contains several provisions
intended to improve the procedural efficiency of FOIA so that it remains a
useful and effective tool in the newsgathering process. These include:
A broader definition of the “news media” that does not simply focus on the
requester’s employment status when he or she seeks a fee waiver. Instead, the
definition is more functional, allowing the agency to grant such status and the
accompanying waiver to those requesters who demonstrate intent to distribute
information to a wider audience, regardless of affiliation.
A change to the rule regarding recovery of attorneys fees when a requester
must go to federal court to prosecute a FOIA request that has been denied at the
agency level. The bill would reinstate the rule in place prior to the Supreme
Court’s 2001 decision in Buckhannon Board
and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep't of Health and Human Services
and would allow litigants to obtain attorneys fees if a substantial part of the
records were obtained through court order or settlement.
An annual report to track the use of the FOIA exemption for critical
infrastructure information that was created in the Homeland Security Act of
Real enforcement mechanism to ensure that agencies do not ignore the
statutorily required 20-day deadline for responding to a FOIA request. This has
proven to be quite controversial, with agency personnel claiming that it is a
lack of resources, not a lack of desire that has led to the backlogs this
provision is intended to remedy.
Clarification that records that had been given to private contractors for
storage and maintenance are still subject to FOIA.
An “FOIA Ombudsman” within a new Office of Government Information Services
to oversee FOIA and ensure it is administered fairly.
A system utilizing telephone or Internet service to enable requestors to
track the status of their FOIA requests.
Explicit requirement for Congress to cite to 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552 whenever it
passes a statute that would create a “(b)(3)” exemption to FOIA, thus ensuring
that new exemptions are not themselves passed in secret.
Two hearings have been held in Congress on this bill. As noted above, a
Senate subcommittee held a hearing on March 15, 2005, during which the following
Katherine M. "Missy" Cary, assistant attorney general of Texas
Walter Mears, former Washington bureau chief and executive editor,
Mark Tapscott, director, Center for Media and Public Policy, Heritage
Lisa Graves, senior counsel for legislative strategy, American Civil
Meredith Fuchs, general counsel, National Security Archive
Thomas M. Susman, Ropes & Gray LLP
The subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability of the
House Government Reform Committee held a hearing on May 11, 2005, titled
“Information Policy in the 21st Century — A Review of the Freedom of Information
Act.” Though this hearing was more of a general oversight hearing, it did focus
specifically on the Open Government Act, as well. Testifying at this
Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States
Carl Nichols, deputy assistant attorney general
Linda Koontz, director, information management, U.S. Government
Jay Smith, chairman, Newspaper Association of America
Ari Schwartz, Center for Democracy and Technology
Mark Tapscott, Heritage Foundation
Momentum behind the Open Government Act slowed as the Senate Judiciary
Committee dealt with other issues, including multiple hearings on Supreme Court
nominees. Meanwhile, the House continues to look at the bill while also
considering alternatives, or at least alternative language with which to amend
the bill, that may accomplish the same goals. There are hopes that the House
Government Reform Committee or one of its subcommittees will hold a hearing on
the legislation in the spring of 2006.
Executive order on FOIA
As the Open Government Act was pending, the
White House decided to address some of the proposals set forth in that bill,
though not in identical language. On Dec. 14, 2005, Executive Order 13392 was
issued under the title “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information.”
The order seeks a “citizen-centered and results-oriented approach” to FOIA
that will strengthen compliance with the act. As such, it:
Required each agency of the federal government to designate by Jan. 14,
2006, a senior official — someone at the assistant secretary level or its
equivalent to serve as the “Chief FOIA Officer” of the agency. That person will
have agencywide responsibility for “efficient and appropriate compliance” with
FOIA. He or she will monitor FOIA compliance throughout the agency and work in
conjunction with agency heads and the attorney general to ensure proper FOIA
Created one or more “FOIA Requester Service Centers” within each agency.
These are the point of first contact for FOIA requesters regarding the status of
requests and any information about an agency’s response. Each center would have
one or more “FOIA Liaisons” who serve as facilitators when requesters have
concerns with the way in which a request is being handled. They are supposed to
seek to “ensure a service-oriented response to FOIA requests and FOIA-related
inquiries.” Though specific methods are not suggested, the FOIA liaison “shall
assist, as appropriate, in reducing delays, increasing transparency and
understanding the status of requests, and resolving disputes.” No new staff or
resources are allotted to create the FOIA Requester Service Centers or the
position of FOIA liaison, nor do they appear to have any specific enforcement
Mandated that the chief FOIA officer review and evaluate the agency’s
implementation and administration of FOIA, with specific emphasis on the
agency’s backlog, if any. The chief FOIA officer is to examine the agency’s use
of technology in responding to requests and reduce backlogs, as well as creating
a system to track all requests filed with the agency. As a result of this study,
the chief FOIA officer shall develop an agency-specific plan to improve FOIA
implementation over the next two years. The agency-specific plan is to contain
concrete milestones and outcomes to be achieved which will allow for evaluation
of the agency’s success in improving FOIA compliance.
The plan is to be contained in a report submitted by June 14, 2006, to the
attorney general and to the director of the Office of Management and Budget; it
also must be published on the agency’s Web site or in the Federal
Register. Similar plans are to be contained in the agency’s annual FOIA
reports for fiscal years 2006 and 2007. Again, there is little enforcement
contemplated for agencies that fail to meet their own benchmarks; instead there
is a self-reporting requirement that identifies the problem but does not specify
any follow-up action.
Charged the attorney general with reviewing the agency-specific plans and
submitting to the president by Oct. 14, 2006, a report on government-wide FOIA
implementation. Further reports are required from the attorney general on June
1, 2007, and June 1, 2008.
Faster FOIA proposal
This legislation was a companion to the Open
Government Act, which was designed to allow senators an alternative to
far-reaching revision of FOIA. Sens. Cornyn and Leahy introduced S. 589 on March
10, 2005, as the Faster FOIA Act. It zipped through the Judiciary Committee,
passing on March 17, 2005.
The Faster FOI Act seeks to establish an advisory commission to study
FOIA-processing delays. This commission would be composed of 16 members, who
would be appointed by various government officials. The chairman and ranking
members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as their equivalents in the
House Government Reform Committee, would each get to select three members. Of
the three members selected by each of these officials, one would have to have
experience in submitting FOIA requests, and another would have experience in the
academic fields of library science, information management or access to
government information. The commission would be rounded out by one member would
selected by the attorney general, one by the comptroller general, one by the
director of the Office of Management and Budget, and one by the archivist.
The committee study would specifically attempt to identify methods of
reducing delay in FOIA processing, create an efficient and equitable processing
system, and examine whether the charging of fees and granting of waivers needs
to be reformed. It would be required to issue a report within one year of the
enactment of this authorizing legislation.
The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 6, 2005, by
Reps. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, as H.R. 1620. The May
11, 2005, hearing in a House subcommittee touched on the importance of the
Faster FOIA Act to proper FOIA functioning.
Despite this action in each chamber, the Faster FOIA Act has received a floor
vote in neither, most likely because there is no consensus on where to house
this commission and its staff; it is currently slated to fall under the purview
of the comptroller general’s office.
A Senate spin-off proposal
This legislation consists of one section
of the Open Government Act that was spun off into its own bill, which was
introduced by Sen. Cornyn on June 7, 2005. The section at issue is Section 8 of
the Open Government Act, which would require any bill that seeks to exempt
information from release under FOIA to specifically cite to 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552 in
order for that new exemption to become effective. This will allow those who
track FOIA legislation to discover proposed new exemptions that are often
inserted as one provision in a much larger, non-FOIA specific, bill. S. 1181
passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 9 and even passed the full Senate
on June 24. However, House prospects for passage in the House are dim. House
members have indicated that they would prefer passing one comprehensive FOIA
bill rather than enacting piecemeal legislation.
Free Flow of Information acts
As noted in last year’s federal
legislative update, bills proposing a federal shield law were introduced by Rep.
Mike Pence, R-Ind., in the House of Representatives (H.R. 581) and by Sen.
Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the Senate (S. 340). However, since March 2005,
concerns raised by members of Congress and the Department of Justice have
resulted in amendment of the original bills.
The new versions of these bills are H.R. 3323 and S. 1419. They provide a
slightly qualified privilege against compelled testimony before any federal
judicial, executive or administrative (though not legislative) body regarding
the identity of a confidential source or information that would reveal the
identity of that source — requiring testimony only when there exists an
“imminent and actual” harm to national security. They also provide a qualified
privilege against the production of documents to these bodies unless clear and
convincing evidence demonstrates that the information cannot be obtained by a
reasonable, alternative non-media source and: (1) in a criminal prosecution or
investigation, there are reasonable grounds to believe a crime has occurred and
the information sought is essential to the prosecution or investigation, or (2)
in a civil case, the information is essential to a dispositive issue in a case
of substantial importance.
There is also protection for information about a reporter that is sought from
a third party, such as telephone or e-mail records. The bills provide that, in
the event that such records are sought, the party seeking the information shall
give the covered entity reasonable and timely notice of the request and an
opportunity to be heard before the records are disclosed.
One of the most important, though also most controversial, provisions is the
section that defines those persons who receive the laws’ protections. The bills
speak in terms of a “covered entity,” which is the publisher of a newspaper,
magazine, book journal or other periodical; a radio or television station,
network or programming service; or a news agency or wire service, with a broad
listing of media such as broadcast, cable, satellite or other means. It also
includes any owner or operator of such entity, as well as their employees,
contractors or any other person who gathers, edits, photographs, records,
prepares or disseminates the news or information.
A hearing was held in the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 20, 2005. Sens.
Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Lugar, and Rep. Pence all testified in support of
the bill. A separate panel consisting of media lawyers Floyd Abrams and Lee
Levine, law professor Geoffrey Stone, columnist William Safire, Time
magazine reporter Matthew Cooper and his editor Norman Pearlstine also
testified. The most notable absentee was the Department of Justice, which was to
be represented by Deputy Attorney General James Comey; he notified the committee
on the morning of the hearing that he would not be attending. This occurred
after having submitted testimony that was critical of the earlier versions of
the Free Flow of Information Act (H.R. 581 and S. 340) — with such criticisms
already having been addressed in the amended bills (H.R. 3323 and S. 1419),
which were both introduced on July 18, 2005, by the same sponsors as their
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a second hearing on the Free Flow of
Information Act on Oct. 19, 2005. Testifying at this hearing:
Chuck Rosenberg, United States attorney for the Southern District of
Judith Miller, The New York Times
David Westin, ABC News
Joseph E. diGenova, diGenova & Toensing LLP
Anne Gordon, Philadelphia Inquirer
Dale Davenport, Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News
Steven D. Clymer, Cornell Law School
Rosenberg elaborated on the Department of Justice’s concerns with the bills.
He identified them as: (1) the potential for significant impairment of the
government’s law enforcement activities, (2) the creation of inflexible,
mandatory standards for subpoenaing reporters, (3) the construction of an
impracticably narrow exception to the absolute privilege, (4) an unreasonable
burden that must be met by the government before obtaining information in court,
(5) an overly broad definition of “covered media” that would allow terrorist
organizations such as al-Qaida to take advantage of the bill to hide from U.S.
law enforcement officials, and (6) the lack of necessity for the very existence
of this legislation, as there is no evidence that the subpoena power is
currently being abused by the Department of Justice.
Restore Open Government Act
Revocation of the “Ashcroft Memorandum” of Oct. 12, 2001, which directed
heads of government agencies to observe the new standard by which the Department
of Justice would defend the denial of a FOIA request in court.
Revocation of the “Card Memorandum” of March 12, 2002, relating to
safeguarding of information on weapons of mass destruction.
Creation by the national archivist of a report on the use of
“pseudo-classification” designations for government information (such as
Sensitive Security Information, Sensitive Homeland Security Information,
Sensitive but Unclassified, etc.). This report would be completed within nine
months of the enactment of the act and would include information on:
Returning from the 108th Congress is
the Restore Open Government Act, introduced once again by Rep. Henry Waxman,
D-Calif., on May 12, 2005. This bill goes a little further than the Open
Government Act in terms of substantive changes proposed for FOIA and is intended
to address many of the key actions taken by the Bush administration that have
restricted access to government information. The bill specifically proposes:
Promulgation of regulations to ban the use of unnecessary
Overturning the Executive Orders issued by George W. Bush on Nov. 1, 2001,
and by George H.W. Bush on Jan. 18, 1989, that have restricted access to
government information under the Presidential Records Act.
Require publication of the names of members of Presidential Interagency
Advisory Committees, which can now be kept secret as a result of the United
States Supreme Court decision in Cheney
v. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (2004).
Promotion of timely declassification of records.
Limiting the broad application of the FOIA exemption contained in the
Critical Infrastructure Information Act of 2002.
- The names and number of various pseudo-classifications used by government
- Any guidance, instructions, regulations or directives used by the agencies
in these areas.
- The number of documents categorized by each agency in the past three years.
- The number, level and experience of agency personnel authorized to make
- The cost of pseudo-classifying documents.
- The extent to which pseudo-classified documents have been released under
- The extent to which pseudo-classifications have been used to withhold
information that is not classified pursuant to an executive order.
The bill was referred to the Committee on Government Reform and the Committee
on Homeland Security. Neither has taken action on it.
Cameras in the courts
The right of television stations to broadcast
federal court proceedings moved forward on the back of legislation introduced in
both chambers. This legislation is similar to bills introduced in recent years
with two differences: (1) there is a new bill that would allow broadcasting of
Supreme Court proceedings in particular; (2) the legislation has actually passed
its committee of reference in the House of Representatives, which seemed
unlikely as long as James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., was chair of that committee. In
all, four bills have been introduced:
S. 1768 and H.R. 4380
S. 1768 was introduced by Sen. Arlen Specter,
R-Pa., with the co-sponsorship of six other senators on the Judiciary Committee,
on Sept. 26, 2005. H.R. 4380 was introduced by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, on Nov.
17, 2005, and referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate Judiciary
Committee discussed the bill during a hearing held on Nov. 9, 2005 (discussed
This legislation would simply permit television coverage of all open sessions
of the Supreme Court unless a majority of the Justices voted that televising the
proceedings would violate the due process rights of one of the parties to the
Sunshine in the Courtroom Act
This legislation (S. 829 and H.R.
2422) has been introduced repeatedly in recent Congresses. This year, Sen.
Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced it in Senate on April 18, 2005, and Rep.
Steve Chabot, R-Ohio., did so in the House on May 18, 2005.
The bills would authorize the presiding judge of any U.S. Court of Appeals or
U.S. District Court to permit the photography or broadcast of court proceedings.
There are provisions that would protect the privacy of any witness who does not
want his or her face or voice broadcast, allowing them to be obscured at the
witness’s request. The bill contains a three-year sunset period.
A hearing was held in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issue of
televising court trials on Nov. 9, 2005. The hearing was quite extensive and
featured testimony from the following witnesses:
- Panel 1
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
- Panel 2
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Judge Jan E. DuBois, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of
- Panel 3
Barbara Bergman, president, National Association of Criminal
Peter Irons, professor of political science, University of
California at San Diego
Seth Berlin, partner, Levine Sullivan Koch &
Brian Lamb, founder and chairman, C-SPAN
chairman and CEO, Court TV Networks
Barbara Cochran, president,
Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation
H.R. 2422 broke new ground when it was added as an amendment to the Secure
Access to Justice and Court Protection Act (H.R. 1751) as a means of avoiding
being held up in the House Judiciary Committee. That bill passed the House of
Representatives 375-45 on Nov. 9, 2005. Interestingly, the White House issued a
statement supporting H.R. 1751 generally, but it opposed the sunshine
provisions, stating: “While the Administration understands the public interest
in viewing trials, the Administration believes Section 22 has the potential to
influence court proceedings unduly and to compromise the security of
participants in the judicial process."
Sunshine in Litigation Act
On June 30, 2005, Sen. Herb Kohl,
D-Wis., introduced a bill that is intended to reduce the excessive level of
protective orders and sealing of court records that occurs in our federal court
The bill would prevent a federal court from entering any orders that prevent
access to information obtained during the course of discovery. More important,
it would prevent secrecy provisions of this type that are often inserted into
settlement agreements. Two exceptions would allow for such restrictive orders.
Both would require that the order be no broader than necessary and prevent the
withholding of information that would be necessary to protect public health and
safety. In fact, courts are prevented from enforcing confidentiality provisions
found in settlement agreements, except that the settlement amount can be kept
secret, as can evidence from a case that would endanger public health or
S. 1348 was referred to the Judiciary Committee, but has received no action
Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act
yet another bill that creates a massive government program that would then be
completely excluded from the requirement to comply with FOIA and, in this case,
the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., introduced this legislation on Oct. 17, 2005, with
the intention of creating a new office within the Department of Health and Human
Services. This office, named the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development
Agency (BARDA), was intended to counter bioterrorism and pandemic disease. The
bill would exempt meetings and information from the Freedom of Information Act
and Federal Advisory Committee Act, unless the secretary of Health and Human
Services or the director of BARDA decided that release of the information would
not harm national security. Decisions would not be subject to judicial review.
In other words, it would be as though the agency did not exist at all; such a
proposed agencywide exemption apparently is the first in the 40 years of
The bill moved quickly through the Senate Committee on Health, Education,
Labor and Pensions, passing on Oct. 18. Despite that unnoticed first step,
opposition to the bill mounted quickly and loudly. Thankfully, the bill has not
undergone a full Senate vote and, in the meantime, the bill’s drafters have
agreed that the FOIA and FACA exemptions are too broad. The bill is being
redrafted to provide for specific (b)(3) exemptions that will apply to
particular types of records or meetings that may affect national security or
particular trade secrets.
Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005
This is one of
those pieces of legislation that spurred Section 8 of the Open Government Act
and S. 1181. Introduced on March 17, 2005, by Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., in the
House as H.R. 1360 and on April 19, 2005 as S. 852 in the Senate by Sen.
Specter, this 100-plus page bill has the following two paragraphs neatly tucked
“IN GENERAL: Section 552 of title 5, United States Code (commonly
referred to as the Freedom of Information Act) shall apply to the Office of
Asbestos Disease Compensation and the Asbestos Insurers Commission.
“CONFIDENTIALITY: Any person may designate any record submitted under this
section as a confidential commercial or financial record for purposes of section
552 of title 5, United States Code. The Administrator and the Chairman of the
Asbestos Insurers Commission shall adopt procedures for designating such records
as confidential. Information on reserves and asbestos-related liabilities
submitted by any participant for the purpose of the allocation of payments under
subtitles A and B of title II shall be deemed to be confidential financial
Substitute language was offered to Senate Judiciary Committee staff in an
attempt to forestall this onerous and overbroad exemption. The need to negotiate
the inclusion of that language was mooted as legislators could not reach
consensus on the need for the broader program. Hearings were held in the Senate
Judiciary Committee late in the first session but the bill has still not moved
‘Operational files’ exemption for DIA
The Defense Intelligence
Agency became the fifth agency to receive an exemption from FOIA for its
“operational files.” The other four are the Central Intelligence Agency, the
National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National
Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
“Operational files” are defined as those that document the conduct of foreign
intelligence or counterintelligence operations or intelligence, or
security-liaison arrangements or information exchanges with foreign governments,
or their intelligence or security services — and those that document the means
by which foreign intelligence or counterintelligence is collected through
The DIA had sought this exception in 2000, but it did not pass. The provision
was introduced in two separate bills in the 109th Congress: the Fiscal Year 2006
Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1815, introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter,
R-Calif., on April 26, 2005; S. 1042, introduced by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., on
May 17, 2005) and the Fiscal Year Intelligence Authorization Act (S. 1803,
introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., on Sept. 29, 2005). It was eventually
passed into law as part of H.R. 1815 (the authorization act), though this FOIA
exception will sunset in two years.
Attempts to amend Patriot Act
The Freedom to Read Protection Act
(H.R. 1157) was introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on March 8, 2005. It
was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Permanent Select Committee
on Intelligence, neither of which has taken any action on the bill despite the
fact that there are 130 co-sponsors.
The Senate version, Library and Bookseller and Personal Record Protection Act
(S. 317) was introduced by Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wis., on Feb. 8, 2005 and
referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
These bills have been re-introduced from the 108th Congress and would amend
the USA Patriot Act provisions that allow the government to obtain a warrant
from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to search for business records.
Specifically, they would prohibit the FBI from obtaining a FISA warrant to
obtain bookseller or library records related to particular patrons. Both would
also impose reporting requirements on the FBI to allow citizens to track the
usage of these warrant provisions generally and understand their effect on civil
The legislation appeared to pass the House of Representatives in 2004, only
to be voted down when Republicans extended the time for a floor vote, which
allowed them to collect more votes in opposition to the bill.
Homeland Security Information Guidance and Training Act
to concerns that “Sensitive Homeland Security Information,” or SHSI, about the
way this such information is collected, distributed and handled, Sen. Ken
Salazar, D-Colo., introduced S. 888 on April 21, 2005.
The bill requires that the undersecretary of Homeland Security for
information analysis and infrastructure protection establish “best practices” to
assist state and local governments in handling and distributing SHSI. It
specifically states that these guidelines will not be mandatory and will not
preempt any existing state or local laws.
The bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and the Committee
on Government Affairs, neither of which has taken any action.
National Farm Animal Identification and Records Act
legislation has been a mainstay of the past few Congresses and was introduced
again on March 10, 2005, by Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. It proposes an
amendment to the Animal Health Protection Act to require the establishment of an
electronic nationwide livestock-identification system while creating protections
to prevent the unauthorized release of information collected under that
In order to accomplish this, H.R. 1254 proposes to exempt information
obtained through the new livestock-identification system from disclosure under
FOIA. Disclosure would be allowed if the information was related to livestock
threatened by disease or pest; or the requester needed the information for
public health and safety reasons.
Disclosure of information would be required if the requester were the person
owning or controlling the livestock; the attorney general, if the request was
made for the purpose of law enforcement; the secretary of homeland security, if
the request was made for the purpose of national security; a court of competent
jurisdiction; or the government of a foreign country, if the request was
necessary to trace livestock threatened by disease or pests.
H.R. 1254 was referred to the House Agriculture Committee, which requested
executive comment from the Agriculture Department on April 4, 2005. The
Agriculture Committee has not taken action on the bill since that date.
Exemption for photos by medical examiners
One of the major
controversies in recent years has been the accessibility of autopsy records,
especially photographs. Many state legislatures have moved to restrict access to
these documents. Congress took a first step in that direction on April 6, 2005,
with the introduction of H.R. 1513 by Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen, R-N.J.
Referred to the Government Reform Committee, this bill actually would create a
10th exemption to FOIA that covers:
"copies, reproductions, or facsimiles of any photograph, negative,
or print, including instant photographs and videotapes, of the body, or any
portion of the body, of a deceased person, taken by or for a medical examiner at
the scene of the person's death or in the course of a post mortem examination or
autopsy of the person made by or caused to be made by a medical
No action has been taken on the bill since its introduction.
Anti-Terrorism and Port Security Act
Introduced on Jan. 4, 2005, by
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., it has been referred to the Homeland
Security, Judiciary, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Ways and Means
The bill vests considerable power in the "captain of the port" at a U.S.
seaport — simply a person designated as such by the commandant of the Coast
Guard for any given seaport. The captain has authority for coordinating
security, including protecting sensitive information related to the seaport. Of
course, “sensitive information” is defined very broadly to include not only all
maps of the seaport and all blueprints of structures located within the seaport,
but also “any other information related to the security of the seaport that the
Captain-of-the-Port determines is appropriate to secure and protect.”
The bill has received no action from any committee.
Private Prison Information Act
One of the major thorns in the side
of access advocates is the constant outsourcing of government records to private
entities, which then claim they are not subject to FOIA. This trend is not
limited to the repositories holding records and information. The government
continues to outsource functions of all types, such as prisons.
Apparently fed up with the inability of citizens to get adequate information
from private prisons, Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, introduced the Private Prison
Information Act on April 21, 2005. It is unfortunate that this bill has not
received any attention from the House Judiciary Committee, as one of the few
FOIA bills that would increase access. It simply says:
"Each non-governmental entity contracting with the Federal
Government to provide a prison or other correctional facility, shall have the
same duty to release information about the operation of that prison or facility
as a Government owned and run prison or correctional facility has under section
552 of title 5, United States Code, commonly called the Freedom of Information
Act. Any party aggrieved by a violation of that duty may, in a civil action,
obtain appropriate relief against that entity or any other proper
S. 384 and H.R. 842
In 2000, legislation was passed to provide
access to U.S. government records concerning the World War II-era Japanese
Imperial Government and concerning Nazi war crimes. That legislation became
effective in March 2001 and was originally intended to sunset after four years.
S. 384, introduced on Feb. 15, 2005, by Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and H.R. 842,
introduced the next day by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., extended this deadline
by two years. The bill rushed through Congress, passing the Senate on Feb. 16,
2005, the House Government Reform Committee on March 10, 2005, and the full
House on March 14, 2005. It was signed into law on March 25, 2005.
General privacy legislation
As usual, several bills were introduced that would protect a right to “personal privacy” generally. They have not received action from the committees of reference, nor are they expected to. These bills are:
Social Security Online Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 82)
Introduced by Rep. Frelinghuysen on Jan. 4, 2005, this bill would regulate the use by interactive computer services of their users’ personally identifiable information. It was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Wireless Privacy Protection Act of 2005 (S. 1350 and H.R. 83)
The House version was introduced by Rep. Frelinghuysen on Jan. 4, 2005, and was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The Senate version was not introduced until June 30, 2005, by Sen. Specter. It was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill seeks to require customer consent prior to the disclosure of that customer’s wireless call location information.
Online Privacy Protection Act of 2005 (H.R. 84)
Rep. Frelinghuysen introduced this bill as well, also on Jan. 4, 2005. It was also referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee. H.R. 84 would require the Federal Trade Commission to prescribe regulations protecting the privacy of personal information collected from Internet users in much the same way that the Child Online Privacy Protection Act currently protects Internet users under the age of 13. However, these regulations would apply to all Internet users, not just children.
Wireless 411 Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 1139)
Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., introduced this bill on March 7, 2005. It would protect the privacy rights of wireless subscribers by preventing wireless companies from including their subscribers’ numbers in any wireless directory unless the provider gives notice to all subscribers that this will occur and gets express authorization from each subscriber. The bill was referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Consumer Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 1263)
Introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., on March 22, 2005, and referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, H.R. 1263 seeks to protect and enhance consumer privacy by requiring organizations collecting personal information from consumers to have privacy-protection policies in place and to notify consumers of those policies and of the fact that personal information is being collected.
E-Mail Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 3503)
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, introduced this bill on July 28, 2005. It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. The bill amends wiretap provisions to apply to stored electronic e-mails.
Privacy Act of 2005 (S. 116)
The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee after it was introduced on Jan. 24, 2005, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. It gives authority to the Federal Trade Commission to prevent the sale of personally identifiable information by commercial entities to third parties unless the subject of the information is first notified and offered the opportunity to prevent the disclosure. Of particular note to participants in the National FOI Day proceedings, the bill would expand the definition of “personal information” contained in the DPPA Drivers Privacy Protection Act to include an individual’s photograph or a photocopy of his or her driver’s license in the types of information that cannot be released under the DPPA.
Kevin M. Goldberg serves as counsel to the American Society of Newspaper
Editors and is a partner at Cohn & Marks.
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