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Homeland Security exempt from FOIA, government says

By The Associated Press

05.09.02

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WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is arguing that the U.S. Office of Homeland Security is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because it technically isn't an "agency" and doesn't exercise substantial authority apart from President Bush.

Responding to a lawsuit filed by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group, the Justice Department compared the role of Homeland Security to the president's National Security Council, which has been ruled exempt under the freedom-of-information law.

Government lawyers urged U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to throw out the group's lawsuit, which sought records about proposals for any national identification systems. The group last month sued the Office of Homeland Security and its director, Tom Ridge. The Justice Department responded with its arguments last week.

David Sobel, the general counsel for the privacy group, said it's unclear whether Homeland Security is more analogous to the National Security Council or to other offices within the White House that have been ruled to fall under the freedom-of-information law, such as the Office of Management and Budget or Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"This entity is so new, there isn't much of a track record," Sobel said. "But the expectations are that Governor Ridge is going to have significant authority to implement post-September 11 policy initiatives. Every aspect of daily life is going to be influenced in some way by the policies emanating from that office."

The group agreed to file its formal court response with the judge on May 24.

Update

Homeland Security office loses round in secrecy lawsuit
District Court ruling favors privacy group in its efforts to obtain records on proposed security programs.  01.03.03

Related

Open-government advocates leery of homeland security bill
Senate to vote on amendment that would strip measure of language exempting advisory committees from public-disclosure rules.  11.18.02

Governor's office rebuffs idea of limiting Arkansas' FOI law
'[L]et me be clear on this: Your efforts to amend the FOI are NOT authorized by the governor,' Mike Huckabee's liaison tells agency director.  08.12.02

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