Why is Congress exempt from FOIA

NSA closes the hatches

The US government does not value transparency too much and now wants to exempt the NSA from the Freedom of Information Act to a large extent

In the USA, every citizen has the right to inspect government files under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, numerous documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) are now to be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. Civil rights groups have brought the bill to the public, which is currently being debated in Congress. They complain that so far not even public hearings have been held.

The corresponding law, the "FY 2004 Defense Authorization Act", the decisive passages of which have been made public by the scientific organization "Federation of American Scientists" (FAS), lies with the US Senate Armed Forces Committee. If passed unchanged, the director of the NSA would be entitled to exclude certain categories of NSA documents from being cleared under the FOIA. Three other federal offices already have this authority, as the Defense Ministry emphasizes: the "Central Intelligence Agency" (CIA), the "National Imagery and Mapping Agency" (NIMA) and the "National Reconnaissance Office" (NRO).

The blocking does not relate to specific events, but applies in general to all documents that could show how the NSA, which also operates the worldwide Echelon interception system, obtained your information. The director of the NSA would, however, also be obliged to check the blocked documents again at least once every ten years and, if necessary, to release them.

The Bush administration expects the new regulation not only to provide more security but also to enable the NSA to carry out its "signals intelligence" missions better. "Signals Intelligence" (SIGINT) includes all types of interception of electronically transmitted signals. The specialist service globalsecutity.org estimates that the USA has three to four satellites in space for this purpose.

The National Security Archive now fears that the lockdown will withhold "important information about the role the NSA, Signals Intelligence and encryption played in US foreign policy and history". The "National Security Archive" is closely linked to the FOIA and in some ways owes its existence to it. It came about in 1985 when a group of journalists wanted to archive their material together that they had received through the FOIA. Today, the George Washington University-based archive, with more than 2 million pages, claims to be the world's largest library of approved documents.

US citizens like to use the "Freedom of Information Act" - so often at the NSA that the secret service has provided its own website on frequently asked topics. This includes, for example, the murder of John F. Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or any information that the NSA has on unknown objects in flight (UFOs). However, certain areas of the NSA's secret service work are already exempt from freedom of information, including information that relates to national security or allows conclusions to be drawn about the sources and methods of the NSA's educational work.

The National Security Archive, which criticizes the government's justification as being “misleading”, is not clear what the benefits of the new law will be. Scientists are now demanding that "at least the proposed exemption should not be passed into law until the NSA has conducted a study of the effects and needs of exemptions and until public hearings on the matter are held." This is what happened with the CIA Information Act of 1984, which is the model for the new law. (Dirk Eckert)

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