Access to Government Information Post September 11th
by Guest Blogger, 2/13/2002
OMB Watch is keeping a list of information removed from government websites. Please contact OMB Watch or call us at (202) 234-8494 to identify any changes in public access to government information since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
View list by category:
- Information restriction policies
- Information removed from agency websites
- Information removed from state websites
Information restriction policies
- Card Memo - On March 19th, the White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, issued a memo to the heads of all federal departments and agencies ordering them to undergo "an immediate reexamination" of current measures for identifying and protecting information on weapons of mass destruction. The memo broadens the focus beyond just information on weapons of mass destruction to also include "other information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people." Agencies and departments have 90 days to conduct this review.
- Ashcroft Memo - Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memorandum on Oct. 12, 2001 urging federal agencies to exercise greater caution in disclosing information requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The memo affirms the Justice Dept.'s commitment to "full compliance with the Freedom of Information Act," but then immediately states it is "equally committed to protecting other fundamental values that are held by our society. Among them are safeguarding our national security, enhancing the effectiveness of our law enforcement agencies, protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy." This new policy supersedes a 1993 memorandum from then-Attorney General Janet Reno that promoted disclosure of government information under FOIA unless it was "reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would be harmful." This standard of "foreseeable harm" is dropped in the Ashcroft memo. Instead, Ashcroft advises," When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions unless they lack a sound legal basis..." A San Francisco Chronicle article provides more information.
- New York State Sensitive Information Memo - On Jan. 17, 2002, James K. Kallstrom, Director of the Office of Public Security and James G. Natoli, Director of the Office of State Operations in New York, issued a confidential memo to agency heads and commissioners on "agency sensitive information." The memo instructs agencies to review all "sensitive" information held by the agency and what information is made publicly accessible via the Internet, freedom of information, or other ways. Sensitive information should no longer be made available to the public except where specifically required by law. Logs over the past year of who has accessed sensitive information should be made available to the Office of Public Security and the Office of State Operations. All of this was to be accomplished by Feb. 17, 2002 and certified by agency heads through a confidential report.
- Critical Infrastructure Information - The Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the biggest government reshuffling since 1947. The law also contained a section entitled Critical Infrastructure Information (CII), intended to create incentives for companies to “voluntarily” submit information about the vulnerabilities of “critical infrastructure.” To accomplish this result, the law creates an overly restrictive information program that will provide corporations secrecy and immunity, and prevent government action to protect the public. For more information on CII, see our CII webpage.
- Critical Energy Infrastructure Information - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Critical Energy Infrastructure Information (CEII) rule in March 2003, establishing new procedures outside of FOIA for requesting information. While FERC was not the only agency to remove or restrict information after the 9/11 attacks, it is the only agency to formalize broad new information restrictions in a rule without specific congressional authority. Read more in depth information about CEII here.
- Sensitive But Unclassified Information - Title VIII, Subtitle I in the Homeland Security Act outlined procedures for sharing "homeland security" information among federal, state and local authorities. These provisions have not been finalized. See additional information on SBU.
For other news articles and analyses on homeland security policies and their affect on information and access, please see the Homeland Security section of our website.
Information removed from agency websites
View list by agency:
- Department of Defense
- Department of Energy
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Interior
- Department of Transportation
- Department of the Treasury
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
- National Archives and Records Administration
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- The Department of Defense discontinued access to the hundreds of documents in its Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) Joint Electronic Library. The agency took the library offline the night before one of its documents was criticized in the press -- the "Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations." Secrecy News reported the shutdown on April 8, 2005. The library was restored the following week, although several of the documents remain unavailable. Some of the documents formerly accessible through the library are available from the Federation of American Scientists and cryptome.org.
- The National Imagery and Mapping Agency "stopped selling large-scale digital maps to the public through its website," according to a Oct. 20, 2001, Houston Chronicle article. Other reports stated that the agency had disabled the search engine on its website that allowed people to download maps from its archives.
- The Department of Energy (DOE) removed detailed maps and descriptions of ten nuclear facilities with weapons-grade plutonium and highly-enriched uranium from its website soon after 9/11. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) sent a letter to Secretary Abraham alerting him to existence of the information online and asked that the detailed maps be taken down. The agency brought down massive quantities of information instead of only taking down the overly-detailed maps. POGO sent another letter to Abraham asking for restoration of most of the information, and the implementation of a more rigorous standard for removal. Nuclear Watch also maintains a list of DOE information taken down from the web.
- DOE is limiting access to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents on its website. Password protection was set up for certain documents, allowing the public access to only a small portion. The NEPA page states, "Because of the security sensitivity of some information in National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, the Department of Energy (DOE) is limiting access to NEPA documents on this website. Members of the public cannot access most of the environmental impact statements and environmental assessments on this website at this time." The page goes on to say that governmental officials and DOE contractors can request access to the documents by filling out an electronic form.
- The Office of Environment, Safety and Health at DOE is not allowing users to search its website. After submitting search terms, a page appears stating, "We are currently reviewing our document collections and revamping our Search capabilities to provide the most up-to-date content and search technologies available. We anticipate completing these activities no later than March 31, 2005. Please visit us again to use our updated Web tools."
- DOE removed information from its Occurence Reporting Program after 9/11. This information, according to DOE, "provides timely notification to the DOE complex of events that could adversely affect: public or DOE worker health and safety, the environment, national security, DOE's safeguards and security interests, functioning of DOE facilities, or the Department's reputation. DOE analyzes aggregate occurrence information for generic implications and operational improvements." Now only those "people that need the information to do their job" like DOE employees or contractors can access the information, and only after submitting a registration form that contains non-disclosure language. This applies to the Final Occurrence Reports Database and the Daily Occurrence Reports page.
- DOE's Office of Defense Programs page was removed from the National Nuclear Security Administration's site on Nov. 1, 2001. The Office of Defense Programs page stated that "The Defense Programs (DP) Website is unavailable until further notice." The page now appears to be restored.
- DOE removed, and subsequently restored, its "Information Bridge" database. This site provides the open source to full-text and bibliographic records of agency research and development reports. However, the page currently reads, "Some full text links may currently be inaccessible via DOE's Information Bridge. We appreciate your patience and understanding." Previously, any search would yield the statement, "This feature is temporarily unavailable. Full-text indexes are currently being optimized in order to provide better customer service."
- The International Nuclear Safety Center removed, and later restored, interactive maps from its website. These maps allow users to click on a location of a nuclear power plant to learn more about it. After 9/11, this link provided the following message: "If you requested access to the maps of nuclear power reactor locations, these maps have been taken off-line temporarily pending the outcome of a policy review by the U.S. Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory." This link now accesses the interactive maps which were restored to the site in their original form Dec. 20, 2001 after the agency conducted a policy review.
- The Los Alamos National Laboratory has removed information from its website. Immediately after 9/11, a number of reports were missing from the site. It continues to point to the Library Catalog as the place to view declassified reports approved for public release. However, when checked on Dec. 23, 2004, the page is unavailable.
- The National Transportation of Radioactive Materials website at DOE was completely removed, although it now appears to be back online. The homepage link led to the message, "This site temporarily unavailable. Please contact Bobby Sanchez at 505-845-5541 if you have any questions." Now the site is restored, though it is not clear if all information has been reposted.
- OMB Watch submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Energy (and other agencies) asking what information it removed from its website and what guidelines, if any, were followed to remove the information. DOE has informed us that it has a large volume of material in response and is still gathering information. OMB Watch did receive a response from the Office of the Inspector General at DOE. It removed two reports from its site, one entitled "Non-Nuclear Weapons Parts at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site" was entirely removed. This report now is re-posted. A map was removed from another report, entitled "Administrative Control of the Hanford Reach National Monument." The map is still not available in the report. OMB Watch will post further portions of DOE's responses at a later date.
- The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry within the Department of Health and Human Services dropped a report on chemical site security from its website. The report notes that "security at chemical plants ranged from fair to very poor" and that "security around chemical transportation assets ranged from poor to non-existent." The report, Industrial Chemicals and Terrorism: Human Health Threat Analysis, Mitigation and Prevention, does not provide information about individual facilities. This report is available through a non-governmental site here.
- The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed access to its website April 8, 2005 after an Inspector General's report revealed that data regarding the Indian Trust fund was not adequately protected. Past lawsuits found that hackers could easily access the trust fund data, and judges ordered access removed. A recent federal appeals court ruling restored Internet access. The website currently reads, " The BLM Web site is currently down for unanticipated maintenance. Thank you for your patience as we work to resolve our technical difficulties."
- The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Associate Director for Water requested that the Federal Depository Libraries destroy all copies of a CD-ROM publication. The Oct. 12, 2001 request targeted the Source Area Characteristics of Large Public Surface-Water Supplies in the Conterminous United States: An Information Resource for Source-Water Assessment, 1999 (19.76:99-248 USGS Open-File Report no. 99-248). The Government Printing Office sent the request on behalf of USGS.
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) removed pipeline mapping from its website. The Office of Pipeline Safety within DOT initially posted a note to its website saying that it "discontinued providing open access to the National Pipeline Mapping System." Because of new security concerns about critical infrastructure systems, the agency stated it would only provide pipeline data to pipeline operators, and federal, state and local government officials. The Wall Street Journal notes in an October 3, 2001, story ("Government Agencies Shut Some Web Sites, Fearing Information Could Aid Terrorists") that "maps of pipelines can be found on the Web sites of several pipeline companies." The National Pipeline System website can now be accessed by the public, however much of the information is still not available. The site reports that "At this time, OPS is providing pipeline data (not access to the Internet mapping application) to pipeline operators and Local, State, and Federal government officials ONLY."
- Geographic Information Services (GIS) at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) were removed from its website, later restored. Immediately after 9/11, if someone clicked on Geospatial Data, Map Gallery, or State GIS Resources, a note indicated that the site was "currently unavailable." The website is a national resource for transportation spatial data and GIS in transportation information. In response to an email question about why the information was unavailable and when it would return, we received the following: "Due to the attacks on September 11th, BTS and all other government agencies have had to reevaluate the content available through our webpages. We do not yet know if this data will be available in the future or if we will permanently offer it only to federal, state and local officials. We apologize for this inconvenience and if you would like I will notify you when we have made a final decision on the matter." When contacted again in Jan. 2005 to see if all the information was reposted, a GIS specialist at the agency stated, "After 9/11, we stopped distributing our GIS data for a couple of months while we evaluated its potential use to terrorists. We determined that none of our data posed a threat, and we resumed business as usual. In USDOT, but outside of BTS, the RSPA Office of Pipeline Safety stopped distributing their GIS database of pipelines, and that database continues to be restricted." (see below)
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has removed data from its website on enforcement actions. The FAA's website allows users to download a number of different databases. This includes records of accidents and incidents, pilot and maintenance training schools, and until recently, data on enforcement actions, the EIS database.
- The Internal Revenue Service is limiting access to its Freedom of Information Reading Room. The agency issued a statement on Oct. 2, 2001 due to concerns for employee safety, stating the agency will no longer permit unescorted public access into its reading room and instead suggested three alternatives. First, it recommends checking the electronic reading room at www.irs.gov to see if the information is available electronically. Second, it suggests calling the Reading Room at (202) 622-5164 to leave a voice message that includes your name, telephone number, and a description of what information you want. An employee is supposed to call to verify receipt of the request and indicate when the requested information will be available; however, when checked in December 2004, the Reading Room's voice-mail system was not functioning and did not allow callers to leave a voice message. Third, it suggests calling the Reading Room at the above number and requesting an appointment. An employee is supposed to return the call and arrange an appointment; however, the same problem with leaving a voice message applies to this step. If someone is actually able to schedule a visit, an IRS employee is required to escort the person at all times in the reading room, and when entering and leaving the building.
- Results of OMB Watch FOIA Request on Information Withheld. Soon after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, EPA began combing its website for any information that could potentially be used to stage another attack -- according to internal agency documents and emails obtained by OMB Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request -- and almost immediately information began coming down on a scale much larger than previously reported, as this inventory shows.
- The National Advisory Committee for Acute Exposure Guidelines Levels (AEGLs) for Hazardous Substances, managed by the EPA, initially decided not to post exposure guidelines for short-term emergency exposure levels on the web, according to BNA. AEGLs describe airborne concentration levels of chemicals to help emergency planners know what types of adverse effects might be associated with varying exposure levels and durations. An EPA scientist explained that the committee is trying to find the right balance of disclosing the information to people who need it, such as federal, state, local, and private organizations developing emergency response plans, and making sure that those who might use the information to harm the public do not have easy access. The BNA article reported that since AEGLs are developed through a public process, the proposed exposure levels are available through the Federal Register, and the final exposure levels are also available on the National Academy of Science's website. Eventually, and potentially because of the availability of the information as noted in the BNA article, the committee relented and began posting the AEGLs on the web along with extensive technical support documents for the chemicals for which the materials have been prepared.
- In March 2002 the EPA announced that it will no longer allow direct access to the Envirofacts databases. In an email to Direct Connect Users, EPA stated that "As part of our continuing efforts to respond to Homeland Security issues . . . starting April 1, 2002, Direct Connect access will no longer be available to the general public. Direct Connect access to Envirofacts will only be available to U.S. EPA employees, U.S. EPA Contractors, the Military, Federal Government, and State Agency employees." Limited and less flexible access to Envirofacts databases will continue to be available to the public via the Envirofacts website. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Envirofacts Warehouse to provide the public with direct access to the wealth of information contained in its databases. An explanation of the new Direct Connect access policy can be found on EPA's website.
- Risk Management Plans have been removed from the EPA website. EPA removed the Risk Management Plans (RMP), which are collected under the Section 112(r) of the Clear Air Act and provide information about the dangers of chemical accidents and how to prevent them. The agency stated the information was removed "in light of the September 11 events," therefore disregarding the provision of the law that requires the information to be made public. These plans provide three elements about chemicals being used in plants: a hazard assessment, a prevention program, and an emergency response plan.
RMPs created an enormous controversy two years ago when the first round of data was to be posted to the Internet. One section of the RMP provided an Offsite Consequence Analysis (OCA) that required chemical companies to describe what could happen under worst-case scenarios. Needless to say, chemical companies did not want to disclose that nearby families were living or working by a place that could seriously injure or kill them. With encouragement from the chemical manufacturers, the FBI noted that posting the OCA data on the Internet would increase the chances of a terrorist attack. Congress quickly followed suit with a law to prohibit government from posting the OCA data unless the President decided otherwise. Accordingly, EPA posted the RMP, minus the OCA, to its website. With extremely narrow permissions, the law and proposed subsequent regulations allowed the public to go to designated reading rooms where they could review, but not copy, a select number of the OCAs.
Although EPA removed the all RMP data from its website, RTK NET (the Right-to-Know Network), OMB Watch provides executive summaries of RMPs. Both the FBI and Congress have acknowledged that Internet disclosure of the remainder of the RMP information presented no unique increased threats of terrorism. This is why EPA's decision to remove the entire RMP is quite startling. However, conservatives and chemical companies have launched a renewed campaign to limit access to the RMP data
In preparation of the extensive re-filing of RMPs that occurred in 2004, EPA proposed several modifications to the RMP in a July 2003 proposed rule. The changes included eliminating the requirement for OCA information in the Executive Summary section of the RMPs. EPA stated that "removing OCA data from executive summaries would reduce or eliminate any risk that Internet posting of executive summaries might pose." The rule was finalized on April 9, 2004, however the RMP data has yet to be reposted.
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has removed "tens of thousands" of documents that detail the specifications for energy facilities from its website. According to a note posted to the agency's site, "The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America have prompted the Commission to reconsider its treatment of certain documents that have previously been made available to the public through the Commission's Internet site... The Commission does not know how long this process will stay in place, and directs staff to report on its impact on agency business in 90 days. In the meantime, staff is also directed to make every effort to respond timely to legitimate requests for documents that have been made available to the public previously but that are no longer available through the means noted above."
NRC once again removed access to its public reading room in late October 2004 after "sensitive" documents were found on its site. Instead of removing just the sensitive documents, it shut down the whole site. The agency restored portions of the site in December 2004, but many documents have not been restored. As we are unable to track all takedowns for the 50 states and D.C., this is a list of what we were notified of in 2001 and 2002. The state of Florida is withholding public access to information on crop dusters and certain driver's license information, and the state legislature may convene new closed committees to prepare for possible terrorism, according to this article. The state of New Jersey has removed chemical information from its website. New Jersey is now withholding Internet access to information -- collected under its Community Right-to-Know Survey -- on 30,000 private sector facilities that must report on chemical storage, including quantities and types of containers, for about 1,000 to 1,200 different chemicals. This information had been available online for about 18 months. Firefighters were increasingly using this data, accessing it on the way to fires. On January 17, 2002, James K. Kallstrom, Director of the Office of Public Security and James G. Natoli, Director of the Office of State Operations in New York, issued a confidential memo to agency heads and commissioners on "agency sensitive information." The memo instructs agencies to review all "sensitive" information held by the agency and what information is made publicly accessible via the Internet, freedom of information, or other ways. Sensitive information should no longer be made available to the public except where specifically required by law. Logs over the past year of who has accessed sensitive information should be made available to the Office of Public Security and the Office of State Operations. All of this was to be accomplished by February 17 and certified by agency heads through a confidential report. The state of Pennsylvania has decided to remove environmental information from its website. Pennsylvania's site hosts, or used to host, environmental data on things such as water and air quality, as well as mining operations and soil conditions. This data was removed shortly before Sept. 11 for server maintenance, according to the Oct. 5 Allentown Morning Call. Now, following the attacks, the state is planning to withhold some information previously available, though at the moment it is not saying what that data will be.
Information removed from state websites
NRC once again removed access to its public reading room in late October 2004 after "sensitive" documents were found on its site. Instead of removing just the sensitive documents, it shut down the whole site. The agency restored portions of the site in December 2004, but many documents have not been restored.
As we are unable to track all takedowns for the 50 states and D.C., this is a list of what we were notified of in 2001 and 2002.
The state of Florida is withholding public access to information on crop dusters and certain driver's license information, and the state legislature may convene new closed committees to prepare for possible terrorism, according to this article.
The state of New Jersey has removed chemical information from its website. New Jersey is now withholding Internet access to information -- collected under its Community Right-to-Know Survey -- on 30,000 private sector facilities that must report on chemical storage, including quantities and types of containers, for about 1,000 to 1,200 different chemicals. This information had been available online for about 18 months. Firefighters were increasingly using this data, accessing it on the way to fires.
On January 17, 2002, James K. Kallstrom, Director of the Office of Public Security and James G. Natoli, Director of the Office of State Operations in New York, issued a confidential memo to agency heads and commissioners on "agency sensitive information." The memo instructs agencies to review all "sensitive" information held by the agency and what information is made publicly accessible via the Internet, freedom of information, or other ways. Sensitive information should no longer be made available to the public except where specifically required by law. Logs over the past year of who has accessed sensitive information should be made available to the Office of Public Security and the Office of State Operations. All of this was to be accomplished by February 17 and certified by agency heads through a confidential report.
The state of Pennsylvania has decided to remove environmental information from its website. Pennsylvania's site hosts, or used to host, environmental data on things such as water and air quality, as well as mining operations and soil conditions. This data was removed shortly before Sept. 11 for server maintenance, according to the Oct. 5 Allentown Morning Call. Now, following the attacks, the state is planning to withhold some information previously available, though at the moment it is not saying what that data will be.top of the page