Hon. Duncan Hunter
Chairman, House Armed Services Committee
2265 Rayburn House Office Bldg.
Re: FOIA Exemption for Land Remote Sensing Information
in Senate's National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2005 (S 2400)
Dear Chairman Hunter:
In anticipation of the House and Senate conference on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers wish to express their serious concerns with Section 1034, "Nondisclosure of Certain Products of Commercial Satellite Operations," as included in the Senate version of the legislation (S 2400).
The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) is the
world's largest and oldest organization of individual working journalists
covering environmental issues. Founded in 1990 and based in
The National Association of Science Writers was founded in 1934 to promote the free flow of science news. It represents nearly 2,500 journalists and public information officers covering science, medicine, energy and the environment. Over the years, its officers have included both freelancers and employees of most of the major newspapers, wire services, magazines and broadcast outlets in the nation.
Land remote sensing information is of vital importance to
any who would seek to understand the environment through research, and to
journalists reporting on the environment and the earth sciences. If enacted,
the provision could make it very hard for reporters to tell their audiences
whether the rain forest is shrinking, whether
Section 1034 would exempt from the Freedom of Information
Act "data that are collected by land remote sensing and are prohibited
from sale to customers other than the
SEJ wants to associate itself with a
"the use of remote sensing
imagery has become a routine and important part of newsgathering, facilitating
more compelling news coverage. Commercial satellite imagery is routinely used
in network and local news broadcasts in addition to print and web-based media.
Recent uses include coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts; nuclear and
other WMD sites in Iran, Pakistan, India, Libya, North Korea, China, and other
countries; flooding in Bangladesh and Eastern India; deforestation in Brazil;
wildfires and t
"Under the bill's terms, however, important non-confidential commercial satellite imagery, as well as products derived from such imagery, which the government has purchased, would be exempt from disclosure to the public. Indeed, the bill's provisions may actually preclude the government from releasing unclassified information it may wish to reveal. In essence, this new FOIA exemption would result in taxpayer dollars being used to preclude the media from adequately informing the public about matters of critical importance that in no way implicate the national security. For example, imagery of genocide or disaster sites, which the government may have obtained, may be denied to journalists investigating how the government responded to these calamities."
"Section 1034 is unnecessary. While the Senate suggests
that "compelled release of such data and imagery by the
"The FOIA is a powerful ally of the public interest and those citizens who are interested in maintaining the accountability of our government and its officials, and the creation of a new exemption cannot be taken lightly. Congress should not undermine the public's interest in knowing what its government is up to in its quest to protect the nation."
These data are often used to design regulatory policies at both the federal and state levels. Without access to these data, the voting and taxpaying public is deprived of the means necessary to tell whether government is doing a good job and serving the public interest. This provision may have deep financial impacts on agriculture, forestry, transportation, fisheries, construction, and dozens of other industries. Enacting it without even holding hearings to examine these impacts seems the wrong way to legislate. It would be better to wait until hearings could be held, and the stakeholders informed of how Congress was affecting their interests.
Recommendation: We urge the conferees to drop Section 1034.
SEJ First Amendment WatchDog Project Director
on behalf of:
Ken Ward Jr.
SEJ First Amendment Task Force Chair
NASW Freedom of Information Committee Chair
SEJ Board of Directors Liaison
SEJ First Amendment Task Force
Pete Weitzel, Coalition of Journalists for Open Government
Patrice McDermott, American Library Association
Beth Parke, Exec. Director SEJ
Hon. Ike Skelton, Ranking, House Armed Services Committee
Hon. John Warner, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Hon. Carl Levin, Ranking, Senate Armed Services Committee