Does anyone else get the sense that a lot of civil liberties are being rolled back in the name of the war on terrorism? Today’s example is the newly-proposed Homeland Security Department, which our President wishes to be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, as well as from Federal whistleblower protection laws.

As to the first sought exemption, it’s pretty clear that the FOIA already contains pretty strong precautions against the release of sensitive information. Quoting from House Report 106-050 (“A Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records”), emphasis added by me:

An agency may refuse to disclose an agency record that falls within any of the FOIA’s nine statutory exemptions. The exemptions protect against the disclosure of information that would harm national defense or foreign policy, privacy of individuals, proprietary interests of business, functioning of the government, and other important interests.

As to the second exemption, does anyone remember the fact that it was a whistleblower that brought to light the inadequacies of the current system? Allowing people to alert oversight committees when bureaucracy is getting in the way of actual work seems to be a good idea to me; after all, the protection only applies when the whistleblower alerts the Office of Special Counsel, not the general public, and one would hope that the OSC can then prevent anything that it deems sensitive from reaching the public.


On an slightly related tangent, there was a story on NPR’s Morning edition (RealAudio link about the middle of the page) yesterday about women whistleblowers.

At first, researchers thought that women generally tend to whistleblow more because they are more interested in ethics than men.

Further research, however, showed this wasn’t the case. It turns out that the majority of people who blow the whistle are middle managers and, these days, more women are entering middle management.

What was most interesting about the story is that they found that once a woman spills the beans she is treated VERY differently than a male whistleblower. Investigations to discredit these women focus on gender biased issues like focusing on possible sexual liaisons with others in the office. Efforts to discredit male whistle blowers do not use gender issue.

• Posted by: Jeff on Jul 2, 2002, 9:30 AM
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