Government Tech And FOIA

If you think that the government is following correct procedure in terms of disseminating information in appropriate manners, think again.  There is a lot of talk on how the government was covering up the militarization of the space program from the 40’s to the Cold War and how FOIA was used:

Twenty-eight of the papers that failed the security review were presented in sessions whose attendance was restricted to three categories of people: U.S. government employees; U.S. citizens, Canadian citizens, or permanent residents in the United States, all of whom had to show proof of their citizenship or immigration status; and citizens of allied countries who could produce a letter from their embassies certifying their citizenship and approving their attendance at the meeting. All attendees signed a statement acknowledging that the information contained in the papers comes under the export control laws and that it cannot be freely disseminated.

This use of an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act to shift papers into restricted sessions is viewed with apprehension in some quarters because it may be used as a precedent for imposing restrictions on unclassified scientific papers. “The SPIE incident sends several distressing signals,” says Rosemary Chalk, executive director of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the AAAS. “The imposition of export controls on papers scheduled for presentation in open sessions represents a significant broadening of government controls beyond the normal sphere of classified research,” she argues.

Allan Adler of the American Civil Liberties Union questions the legality of applying Freedom of Information exemptions in a situation for which they were never intended. Moreover, he argues that the new regulations themselves represent a worrisome extension of Defense Department authority over information that it does not own.

It is by no means clear that the Defense Department sees this episode as a model. Young notes that the procedures “worked well in the panic situation we were in,” but says he would like to see a lot more discussion before they are applied routinely. “We can’t use this as a model and put it in place without realizing what problems it creates for the societies,” he says. “I don’t know how it’s going to end up.”

SPIE officials believe, however, that technical societies may be forced to accept such controls. According to Lewis Larmore, the society’s president, SPIE’s governing committee held a meeting during the conference at which “all of us agreed that if we are going to stay in business we are going to have to kowtow to these rules.” Although the bulk of the contested papers were salvaged by shifting them into restricted sessions, “we’ve lost our virginity,” Larmore noted.

The incident also sent a shiver of apprehension through parts of the academic community because it threatened to undercut a policy worked out last year under which no restrictions would be placed on the publication of results of basic research funded by the Defense Department on university campuses (Science, 26 October 1984, p. 418). The policy was spelled out in a memorandum written by former Under Secretary for Research and Engineering Richard DeLauer and reiterated in a letter from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to the head of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. It applies to all Defense-funded research in the 6.1 budget category (essentially basic research), and on-campus research in the 6.2 category (essentially applied research) unless “there is a high likelihood of disclosing performance characteristics of military systems, or of manufacturing technologies unique and critical to defense.”

So if the FOIA is not being followed, what then?  It begs the question and also gives light to people like Edward Snowden who crusaded to give the public a light into the shadow government.

This is an important thing to be aware of as a citizen, whether you are interested in promoting FOIA attempts and preservation or not.