Groups want input on DHS data sharing

Letter to Homeland Security Department

Decisions on securing information-sharing processes among agencies and first responders for homeland security must include input from the public, says a group of 75 advocacy organizations.

In a letter sent yesterday to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the group — which includes representatives for journalists, scientists, librarians, environmental groups and others — called for public input. The Homeland Security Department, unlike many federal agencies, has the legal authority to create information-sharing regulations and procedures without public comment, but the group called for DHS to release drafts and make clear that citizens' comments were taken into consideration in the final version.

Because "the procedures that are to be created will directly address the 'safeguarding' of information and restrictions on public dissemination of information, the public should have the opportunity to review a draft version of these implementing procedures, analyze their adequacy and potential impact and make recommendations for improvements, as necessary," the letter states.

DHS and the Office of Management and Budget are developing rules for handling homeland security information. Without public input, procedures for "sensitive but unclassified" homeland security data could be kept from people who might need access to it, such as community residents, public health officials and journalists, the advocacy group said.

The letter, sent this week, expresses concerns stemming from a recent analysis that estimated 4 million people outside government would be required to sign formal nondisclosure agreements about information they possess, and would then be subject to criminal sanctions.

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