RealTime IT News

Groups Want DHS to Publish Secret Draft Regs

Organizations representing journalist, scientists, librarians, environmental groups and privacy advocates sent a letter Thursday to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge calling for DHS to disclose draft regulations for "safeguarding" and sharing a vaguely defined set of information between firefighters, police officers, public health researchers and federal, state, and local governments.

According to OMB Watch, DHS is poised to write new regulations, without guarantees of public input, that could make otherwise publicly available information classified and subject millions of Americans to confidentiality agreements.

The law that created the DHS included a provision that required the federal government to safeguard and share "homeland security information" with government officials, public health professionals, firefighters and others in order to respond to a terrorist attack.

Included in that set of information is a potentially broad set of information, such as maps of environmental contamination, that is not classified but which may be perceived as helpful to a terrorist or potentially helpful in responding to or preventing an unknown future attack.

The letter asks Ridge to release to the public a draft version of the new procedures, which would not themselves contain classified information, and address public comments in writing.

The letter expresses concern that the procedures may cut public information out of the public domain, and that the procedures would subject millions inside and outside of government to nondisclosure agreements and criminal penalties for disclosing information improperly, and cut out the ability of journalists, community groups, and others to inform the public of activities of federal, state and local governments.

"The Homeland Security Information Sharing Act was passed into law with little public review or scrutiny and, thus, the impact of the procedures that are to be developed to implement (the act) are unknown," the letter states. "Since its passage, though, the law has attracted increased attention outside the government. We ask that the Department of Homeland Security provide the public with a period of sufficient lneght (i.e., 90 days) to review and comment upon a draft version of the procedures before they are finalized."