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Iowa official to lawmakers: Re-examine open records law

By The Associated Press,
freedomforum.org staff

10.18.01

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DES MOINES, Iowa — The state's new domestic security chief said yesterday that lawmakers should review Iowa's open-records law to make sure information gathered to defend against terrorist attacks is not open to the public.

Ellen Gordon, named by Gov. Tom Vilsack to head the security effort, said one of her first steps will be to prepare a list of "several hundred" potential terrorism targets and any needed security changes.

She told lawmakers yesterday that they should examine the state's public records law to make sure none of the information would be released publicly.

"We're collecting some pretty critical information," Gordon said. "It's all going to be compiled in one document."

The Des Moines Register reported today that after meeting with the Legislature’s Oversight Committee Gordon said: "We think that for national security purposes that that information should remain confidential or classified, so it doesn't get into the hands of the wrong person."

State Rep. Jack Hatch, a liberal Democrat from Des Moines who usually argues for keeping records open to the public, said "we need to strike a balance" and that some security information need to be kept confidential.

Kathleen Richardson of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council told The Des Moines Register that lawmakers should proceed with caution.

"I would hope before the Legislature dives in and starts overhauling the open records law they would see if there are any provisions … that already cover that kind of information," Richardson was quoted by the newspaper as saying. "We don't want to sacrifice our ideals of open government, especially in times of crisis. It's important to keep government as open as possible, so the public can keep an eye on what government is doing and government is accountable to the people."

Gordon said the state wanted to keep the public informed without releasing sensitive information.

“The last thing that I want to have happen is to have it come across that, 'Well, the Homeland Security Office is keeping everything secret,’” she said.

Related

Heightened security may lead to censored records in Kentucky
Governor’s office is drafting amendment to state Open Records Act that would allow agencies to withhold certain kinds of information.  11.05.01

States seek to restrict public access in wake of terrorist attacks
'State lawmakers are closing public records at an alarming pace, often without even a shrug from those with the most to lose — ordinary citizens,' journalist says.  12.12.01

Ashcroft urges caution in release of public records
Bush administration changes policy, says agencies that legitimately turn down requests made under FOIA will have Justice Department’s backing.  10.17.01

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