SEJ letter to senators, November 18, 2002

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November 18, 2002
By FAX to 202-224-6329

Sen. Tom Daschle
509 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Sen. Daschle:

The Society of Environmental Journalists, the largest and oldest organization of individual working journalists covering environmental issues, has deep concerns about the extraordinary secrecy provisions contained within the House version of the Homeland Security Act. On behalf of our more than 1,200 members, SEJ expressed those concerns earlier in a joint letter from several journalism organizations. We are aware that some journalism groups, including the Associated Press Managing Editors, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists, are continuing to work with political leaders toward more acceptable language. We encourage you to be receptive to their efforts.

ASNE has concluded that the House version causes problems because:

  • It applies to any voluntarily submitted critical infrastructure "information," permitting a good deal of information to be closed off from public access. The Senate provision applies only to records.
  • Its definition of critical infrastructure information is too broad.
  • It imposes criminal penalties on government employees who release any voluntarily submitted critical infrastructure information.
We agree, and ask you to protect the bi-partisan FOIA language that was reached in July by Sens. Bennett (R-UT), Levin (R-MI) and Leahy (D-VT).

SEJ's non-partisan mission is to advance public understanding of environmental issues by improving the quality, accuracy, and visibility of environmental reporting. Towards that end, SEJ provides critical support to journalists of all media in their efforts to cover complex issues of the environment responsibly.

Our group's leaders, including members of its First Amendment Task Force, are concerned that the First Amendment is facing perhaps its greatest assault in more than 50 years because of the war on terrorism. It seems that no subject of reporting, with the exception of the military, has been under assault more than environmental issues. Efforts are under way to severely restrict information related to a very broad definition of so-called critical infrastructure: power plants, dams, pipelines, oil refineries, chemical plants, railroads and other industries, as well as the government agencies that regulate them. Some secrecy provisions may be legitimate in a time of war. But frankly, we are worried that the pendulum is swinging far too much toward secrecy. At risk are the very freedoms that government seeks to protect.

Please work to protect press freedoms in the public interest.

Sincerely yours,

James Bruggers
SEJ board liaison to the SEJ First Amendment Task Force

Ken Ward, Jr.
SEJ First Amendment Task Force chair

Dan Fagin
SEJ President

cc: Sen. Robert F. Bennett
Sen. Robert C. Byrd
Sen. Patrick Leahy
Sen. Carl Levin

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