Feds scrub sites to avoid aiding terrorists

Agencies have removed information from federal Web sites that they believe could help terrorists plan future attacks, and officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates nuclear power plants, chose to temporarily shut down their Web site this month while they review their online information.

"There are a number of agencies and organizations taking a look at their information that was once considered in our society to be publicly available — that you could get from just about anywhere. But we're rethinking that in light of what happened on Sept. 11," said NRC spokeswoman Rosetta Virgilio.

The Transportation Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken similar measures in the past few weeks.

The EPA removed a database containing facilities' risk management plans from its Web site shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and is reviewing all material available on its site, said Elaine Stanley, director of the Office of Information Analysis and Access. In the 1990s, Congress required the EPA to develop the plans to keep the American public informed about chemical dangers in their communities. Stanley said the public, as well as state and local government officials, access the risk plans, which are still available to anyone making a direct request via the EPA Web site.

Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., immediately condemned NRC's decision and called it an "overreaction." Tyson Slocum, research director at Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, said it is "prudent" for agencies to review the sensitive information they post online, but "NRC's decision to remove all information on their Web site is an overreaction that does more harm than good."

Virgilio said NRC revived portions of the site on Oct. 17, including information on public meetings, press releases, employment opportunities and how to report a safety concern.

At least one agency has added, not removed, information to its Web site since Sept. 11. After the attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration was flooded with requests for information about air travel restrictions from concerned passengers, as well as general aviation pilots wondering when they were going to be able to fly again.

"We made lots of information available so people could go right to the Web site and get their questions answered," said FAA spokeswoman Tammy Jones.

Jones acknowledged that since the attacks, the FAA had taken down an enforcement information system database that contained sensitive security information. However, the FAA decided to remove the database from the site because it contained information that was "supposed to be redacted, and it was a mistake" that it was put up in the first place, Jones said.

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