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Publication date: May 19, 2004

J-GROUPS URGE DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY TO LIMIT INFRASTRUCTURE SECRECY

A new coalition of journalism groups has urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to limit the sweeping scope of its rule for protecting "critical infrastructure information" (CII) from potential terrorists.

Critical infrastructure information, as defined by the DHS and the Homeland Security Act of 2002, can include many kinds of information needed by environmental journalists in doing their everyday jobs. CII may include information about drinking water systems, chemical plants, power plants, or shipping channels, for examples. To encourage industry to notify DHS of possible vulnerabilities and threats that could be exploited by terrorists, the CII program allows DHS to keep such information secret unless it is required to be made public by some other law.

The Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG), an umbrella for at least 14 major media organizations, submitted comments to DHS on the record May 18, 2004, as the agency began finalizing its CII rule. The Society of Environmental Journalists signed on to the coalition's comments. SEJ had submitted comments of its own on June 16, 2003, when the rule was originally proposed.

The joint comments marked a major step forward in assembly of so many major journalism groups into a single coalition actively intervening in open goverment issues. The coalition is coordinated by Pete Weitzel, former managing editor of the Miami Herald.

Groups signing the CJOG comments included the following:

American Society of Newspaper Editors
Associated Press Managing Editors
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Radio-Television News Directors Association
Society of Professional Journalists
Society of Environmental Journalists
National Press Club
Investigative Reporters and Editors
Criminal Justice Journalists
Education Writers Association
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information
Freedom of Information Center, University of Missouri
Newspaper Association of America
National Freedom of Information Coalition
In their comments, the CJOG coalition said they were "concerned that a program this sweeping, one that puts a shroud of secrecy on a vast quantity of information concerning potential dangers to our critical infrastructure - and thus to ourselves and our fellow citizens - is moving forward with no public benchmarks, with no indicators of progress or success."

"The Interim Rule as adopted makes no provision for accountability," CJOG wrote, "only for keeping information from the public."


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