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Terrorism study still worries open-records advocates

By The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO — The Air Force has announced that it will administer a $1 million grant to the St. Mary's University Center for Terrorism Law to study states' protection of information about infrastructure and cyber security.

Funding for the study was included in the 2006 Defense Department appropriations bill, but, contrary to earlier reports, it had been unclear who would administer the grant.

The study has raised concern among some freedom-of-information advocacy groups and St. Mary's alumni that national-security interests could trample those of public disclosure.

Jeffrey Addicott, the grant's author and director of the Terrorism Law center, has said the study would examine open-records laws around the country and outline best practices for restricting access to information about the nation's infrastructure to protect it from terrorist attacks.

The Air Force released the final grant proposal on Sept. 21.

"It is a very hot-button issue, and I understand how people get emotional," Addicott said. "I am glad the proposal is out and everyone can see exactly what is going on."

The document says the grant's goal is to "assist government employees (and the Air Force) in safeguarding critical infrastructure and information systems while also assuring the fullest level of public access to information."

According to the proposal: "The government should never unnecessarily restrict American citizens' access to information about their government. National security should not be used as an excuse to improperly restrict public access to information."

The study will lead to a national conference to discuss its findings and possibly propose model legislation that could be adopted by state lawmakers.

Paul McMasters, First Amendment Center ombudsman, said the proposal's assurances didn't erase concerns about the study's outcome.

"Such reviews very seldom wind up increasing access to information," McMasters said. "My impression is that it is an effort designed for a very good purpose that is going to have some real problems. It is putting into the same mixing bowl a rather abstract notion of transparency against the very scary proposition of 'If the wrong information gets out somebody dies.'"

The American Civil Liberties Union has written a letter to St. Mary's demanding to participate in the study.

Addicott said the ACLU and others are welcome to participate.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a St. Mary's law school graduate, praised the Sept. 21 announcement. The Texas Republican helped secure funding for the grant. He has said it was wrong to assume that the study's purpose is to obscure government transparency.

"Cornyn is a big proponent of open government," Addicott said. "Why would he support a proposal that would clamp down on open government? Critics are saying by even thinking about this (issue) you are infringing on civil liberties. I don't think that's right. We just want to find out what is going on."

Defense Dept. to fund university study on altering FOIA
Open-government advocates say project at Texas law school, which will examine ways of rewriting law to prevent terrorists from getting sensitive information, is troubling. 07.08.06

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