Friday, July 07, 2006

FOIA a terrorist tool?

Is the Freedom of Information Act the next target of the Bush administration in its neverending War on Terror? FOIA which has been with us since 1966 has suddenly become the focus of forces looking to clamp down on our personal freedoms here in the United States under the guise of protecting us from future terrorist attacks.
Most recently, they have enlisted the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University here in San Antonio to study ways to limit the scope of FOIA.

The Defense Department is sending St. Mary's University School of Law $1 million to help fight terrorism by studying ways to limit the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, a landmark open government law that celebrated its 40th anniversary Tuesday.

The fellow who will be heading up the study is Jeffrey Addicott, an Associate Professor of Law at St. Mary’s who serves as director of the center. Addicott is a frequent commenter on Fox News and has authored a number of academic works including this one that claimed that Bush's military tribunals are Constitutional. Oops!

Addicott says "the purpose of the yearlong project is to find ways to rewrite the law to prevent terrorists from getting sensitive information about water, sewer, electricity and transportation systems."

The project's end product will be a "model" statute that state governments or Congress can adopt, he said.
"The mission is to balance increase in security with civil liberties, which are precious," said Addicott, a former legal adviser in the Army Special Forces. But "in a time of war, balance goes toward security."

Hmmmm. Balance goes toward security. I guess that sounds reasonable. But is it really? The E-N article goes on to quote a couple of officials who raise objections to this new study, inlcuding my old boss from The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Randy Sanders, who is now heading up The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

"It seems like we're just losing all our freedoms in the name of homeland security, and I just wonder where the real threat is," Sanders said. "We're not going to keep terrorists from finding out about power plants and water supplies by tightening the Freedom of Information Act."

In the past, Addicott has expressed his view that civil liberties need to be curtailed in the "war against terrorism."

(Addicott) said the USA Patriot Act, which makes it easier for law enforcement to conduct surveillance and obtain records, doesn't go far enough to protect the nation.
"If you want to shift toward security, you have to give a little on civil liberties," Addicott said. "People who don't want to give an inch on civil liberties are dooming us to a police state - the thing they dread most."

Is he quite sure that we will only have to "give an inch?" Hasn't he ever heard the old addage about "give an inch, take a mile." It's a favorite among conservatives arguing against the legalization of gay marriage.
Interestingly enough, this article goes on to quote Gerald Goldstein, a nationally known criminal defense lawyer from San Antonio, who challenges Addicott's views and accuses him of using scare tactics to advance his goals.

"I'm not suggesting he's not bright and totally bereft of foundation for his opinions," Goldstein said. "I am going to suggest that he is willing to set upon a path that engages in scare tactics. This kind of rhetoric only fuels the flames of paranoia."

In the same article, Addicott is quoted saying that "Americans have hit the snooze button on the alarm and gone back to sleep after Sept. 11," he said. "I'm just saying, 'Hey, we're still at war.'"
And here is what he has to say in today's E-N article:

(Addicott) said he believes it's only a matter of time before terrorists figure out how to hack into computers that run the nation's infrastructure.
So far, Addicott said, he doesn't know of any terrorists who have used freedom of information laws to get such information, but he believes it is inevitable that they will.
"They don't need bombs anymore," he said. "They can hack in and tell the Hoover Dam to release the water."

Hack into the computer that controls Hoover Dam and tell it to release the water. Hmmmmmm. I think Goldstein may have a point. This certainly sounds like he is "fueling the flames of paranoia" here.

As for the terrorists not needing bombs anymore, I think we figured that out a while back. All they needed to pull off the devestation from 9/11 was to sneak a few box cutters onto some planes. That and the element of surprise.
They didn't need to do any elaborate computer hacking and they certainly did not have to file any FOIA requests to pull off 9/11.

As Paul McMasters, a public information expert at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., says in the E-N story, reconciling discrepancies in law "is not a bad idea."
"But for this to be done at the direction of a federal agency where secrecy is paramount and where confusion is frequent gives one pause," he adds.

And all of this under the direction of an administration with a track record for gross incompetence. I don't see anything good coming out of it.

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