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Project on Government Oversight

Coalition Letter to Members of Congress regarding the Transportation Secrecy Provision in HR 3550

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July 26, 2004

 

American Association of Law Libraries * American Library Association * Californians Aware * Clean Water Action * Electronic Frontier Foundation * Electronic Privacy Information Center Environmental Defense * Federation of American Scientists * Friends of the Earth * Greenpeace * National Security Archive * Natural Resources Defense Council * Nuclear Information and Resource Service * OMB Watch * Project on Government Oversight * Public Citizen * Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press * Sierra Club * Society of Professional Journalists * University of Missouri School of Journalism Freedom of Information Center * U.S. Public Interest Research Group * Working Group on Community Right-to-Know

Re: Transportation Secrecy provision in HR 3550

Dear Member of Congress:

On behalf of our millions of members, we are writing to express our serious concerns with language in the Senate-passed version of HR 3550, the 2004 transportation bill, which grants the Department of Transportation additional authority to withhold information that is deemed "sensitive security information." This language was added at the behest of the Bush administration without hearings or careful consideration of the public's interest in effective public oversight of transportation security. The vague, overbroad language has serious implications for public health and safety.

We are concerned that this provision could cover almost anything potentially related to transportation security. The provision would make it difficult for the public, including labor unions, news media, citizen groups and others, to determine if public officials are effectively overseeing transportation assets and expenditures. It is unclear from the language in this provision if the public would be able to determine, for example, the fitness of motor carrier companies to transport hazardous cargoes, the shipment routes that may bring nuclear waste through our communities, or how air pollution from highway trucks might affect children living nearby.

Because of the potential for information to be withheld it is likely that problems could go uncorrected indefinitely. People could be injured, only for the public to learn that known problems had been concealed, but not fixed. Finally, we are concerned that the provision further extends the preemption of state and local governments on issues related to monitoring transportation security.

Recent developments suggest that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is already inappropriately withholding information from the public. In June, federal judge Charles R. Breyer of the northern district of California criticized the FBI and TSA for making "frivolous claims" that certain agency-held information is exempt from disclosure. The judge ruled that the agencies had improperly categorized "innocuous" information that is "common sense and widely known" as "sensitive security information" (SSI). Similar SSI claims shrouded in secrecy TSA's development of the CAPPS II aviation security system. The resulting lack of public trust recently prompted Secretary Ridge to scuttle the program after TSA had spent more than $100 million on its development. Such actions suggest the need for more, not fewer, constraints on the government's ability to withhold transportation information.

We respectfully urge you to drop the secrecy language from the transportation bill, and to hold full hearings on the implications of these provisions.

Sincerely,

Mary Alice Baish
American Association of Law Libraries

Meredith Fuchs
National Security Archive

Patrice McDermott
American Library Association

Michael Mariotte
Nuclear Information and Resource Service

Terry Francke
Californians Aware

Sean Moulton
OMB Watch

Lynn Thorp
Clean Water Action

Danielle Brian
Project on Government Oversight

Lee Tien
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Wenonah Hauter
Energy Program, Public Citizen

David Sobel
Electronic Privacy Information Center

Lucy Dalglish
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Michael Replogle
Environmental Defense

Debbie Boger
Sierra Club

Steven Aftergood
Project On Government Secrecy
Federation of American Scientists

Charles Davis
Freedom of Information Center
University of Missouri School of Journalism

Sara Zdeb
Friends of the Earth

Gordon D. Mckerral
Society of Professional Journalists

Rick Hind
Greenpeace

Navin Nayak
U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Deron Lovaas
Smart Growth and Transportation Program
Natural Resources Defense Council

Paul Orum
Working Group on Community Right-to-Know
 

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