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Publication date: Nov. 16, 2005

SEJ OPPOSES SECRECY MANDATE IN NEW BIODEFENSE BILL

The Society of Environmental Journalists this month added its voice to those of other journalism groups opposing the granting of supersecret status to a newly proposed biodefense agency a blanket of secrecy that would extend to many of the nation's drug and chemical companies.

Acting through its First Amendment Task Force, SEJ signed onto a letter of opposition sent to Senate sponsors of the measure by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG). The letter opposes unprecedented secrecy provisions in the bill (S 1873) that would apply to the new Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency ("BARDA") it would create. Under the bill, BARDA would be entirely exempt from both the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the nation's main open records and meetings laws. That's more secrecy than the CIA enjoys.

The newly created BARDA and attendant advisory committees and private-industry collaborators would address biological disease agents, whether they be military or terrorist bioweapons or natural epidemics or pandemics. Blanket exemptions to FOIA and FACA would apply unless BARDA decides that disclosure would not harm security. BARDA's classification decisions would be exempt from legal appeal.

Groups signing the letter included the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press Managing Editors, Association of Alternative Newspapers, CapitolBeat, Investigative Reporters and Editors, National Conference of Editorial Writers, Society of Environmental Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, and Washington Coalition for Open Government.


Last revised January 22, 2013

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