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USA Today publishes an explosive story today alleging that the Bush administration wants to roll back the Freedom of Information Act. The new program will grant $1 million to the St. Mary's University law school to analyze various state laws on information access:
The federal government will pay a Texas law school $1 million to do research aimed at rolling back the amount of sensitive data available to the press and public through freedom-of-information requests.
Beginning this month, St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio will analyze recent state laws that place previously available information, such as site plans of power plants, beyond the reach of public inquiries.
Jeffrey Addicott, a professor at the law school, said he will use that research to produce a national "model statute" that state legislatures and Congress could adopt to ensure that potentially dangerous information "stays out of the hands of the bad guys."
"There's the public's right to know, but how much?" said Addicott, a former legal adviser in the Army's Special Forces.
Sounds ominous, right? Civil libertarians will soon sound off about the coming of Big Brother and the oppression of the federal government. However, as Daniel Freedman notes at It Shines For All, the USA Today fundamentally misrepresents the reason for the federal grant. Daniel goes to USA Today's source to expose the twist the newspaper put on the program:
So the administration is trying to roll back civil liberties? That would be a good story, except when I met the head of the center, Jeff Addicott, recently in New York I remembered that he told me that the aim of the project is the opposite. And he confirmed this in a recent phone conversation following the publication of the USA Today story.
Addicott told me that the project is "looking at what has already been done and seeing whether it breaches civil liberties." In other words, the "intent is the exact opposite of what the report claims."
In other words, the program allows St. Mary's to review state FOIA laws to ensure that they respect civil liberties fairly and consistently, while also providing a consistent level of protection for information that should not get released at all. USA Today takes that effort and blows it up into an attack on civil liberties.
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