The Florida Senate held a secret meeting March 6, 2003, the first time in several decades that the press and public were unable to attend a Senate committee meeting. Senators were briefed about a state database called Threat-Net, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) counter-terrorism database. FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore asked for the closed meeting for security reasons, although senators attending had no special security clearance. Senate President Jim King (R) defended the meeting saying, “we're involved in some stuff that doesn't fit within the purview of normalcy.
Federal agencies showed varied responses to Attorney General John Ashcroft's memo instructing agencies to withhold documents whenever legally possible under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The audit concludes agencies' implementation of FOIA requests is in disarray, with agencies failing to provide basic information to help the public file requests (such as agency FOIA contacts), failure to acknowledge requests within 20 days as FOIA requires, excessive delays and backlogs in responding to requests, and inconsistent appeals processes.
On March 3, 2003, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) published in the Federal Register its final rule restricting access to critical energy infrastructure information (CEII) and establishing new procedures outside of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for requesting access. FERC began this process in response to the terrorist acts committed on September 11, 2001, and published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on September 13, 2002, to obtain public comments.
As the first challenges under the Data Quality Act are being decided and appeals are being considered, new industry challenges are being filed: recently two data quality challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been decided at least in part; and two new challenges have been filed, one also with the EPA and another with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA).
Data Quality Challenges Answered
The recent decision by the General Accounting Office (GAO) to drop its lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney likely further weakens the agency’s ability to get information from an already overly secretive administration. The GAO lawsuit set an important precedent as the first time in GAO’s 81 years that the agency sued the Executive Branch in order to obtain information. This raised the struggle for transparency and accountability in government to a new level.
In an effort to encourage use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to access information, Illinois State Reps. Barbara Flynn Currie and Mary K. O'Brien have introduced House Bill 438 to the Illinois state legislature. The bill would provide reimbursement for court costs and attorney fees for individuals who are successful in lawsuits brought under the Illinois FOIA. This would ensure that individuals previously constrained due to financial burdens, as well as attorneys who were discouraged by fees, could utilize opportunities to access information and participate in democracy.