Monday, December 06, 2004

Citizen frogs

They say that if you drop a frog in a boiling pot of water, it will jump out to safety, but if you put a frog in a room temperature pot of water and gradually increase the heat, it will eventually boil to death. I am feeling pretty froggy lately. Every day when I read the news it seems like the line in the sand has gotten redrawn a touch further toward a fascist police state and away from a democratic society that values civil liberties. At what point are we all going to jump out of the water or boil to death?

The latest news piece that has inspired my feelings of citizen frog is not brand new; it just came to my attention. The Federal Times has a story on hush policies put in place at the Homeland Security Office seven months ago. In essence the new policies put a clamp-down on information sharing and completely inhibit the transparency that, quite frankly, is the corner stone of republican (in the good sense) democracy:
The department has issued a directive that employees and contractors share sensitive but unclassified information only with those having a need to know it. Employees can still share information with Congress and the Justice Department, according to the directive.

Further, employees and contractors can be searched at any place or any time to ensure they are in compliance with the policy. They can also face administrative, civil or criminal penalties if they violate the rules.

. . .

The two largest federal unions--the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees--learned of the policy last month, and on Nov. 23 they formally called upon the department to retract the policy.

"The directive violates public policy and our national interest by providing a ready device for officials to suppress and cover up evidence of their own misconduct or malfeasance by stamping documents 'for official use only,'" attorneys for the unions wrote in a letter to Homeland Security General Counsel Joe Whitley.

. . .

What sets the Homeland Security's agreement apart, critics say, is that it is stricter and more far-reaching than others.

For instance, unlike most other nondisclosure agreements, this one gives any employee or contractor the power to label information "for official use only," immediately restricting its dissemination.

It also defines "sensitive but unclassified information" in broad terms: "An overarching term that covers any information . . . which the loss of, misuse of, or unauthorized access to or modification of could adversely affect the national interest or the conduct of federal programs."

This definition is so broad, it will effectively intimidate employees and contractors from divulging any information, said Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog organization.
Ribit. Ribit.

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