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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2002

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Conference Reports

STS Publisher/Vendor Relations Discussion Group and STS Government Information Committee
ALA Annual Conference, June 16, 2002

Victoria Mitchell
Head, Science Library
University of Oregon

The ALA Science and Technology Section (STS) Publisher/Vendor Relations Discussion Group joined with the STS Government Information Committee to present a discussion on "Access to Scientific Information in the Post-9/11 Era." Two speakers initiated the discussion: Patrice McDermott, Assistant Director of the Office of Government Relations in the American Library Association's Washington, D.C. office, and Julie Williamsen, co-chair of the STS Government Information Committee.

Unfortunately, this reporter was delayed by a MARTA mishap and missed Patrice McDermott's talk. She spoke about the USA Patriot Act, and after the discussion, shared with me a PowerPoint presentation printout that conveyed some of the information she had presented. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-56) was introduced less than a week after September 11, and signed into law on October 26, 2001. It was passed on an extreme fast track, during a time of national emotional turmoil, and with almost no public debate. The Act amends more than 15 different statutes, including:

Further information can be found at: {}.

Julie Williamsen spoke about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), post 9/11. The new climate is a presumption to withhold information. The Department of Justice has informed agencies that it will defend their "right not to disclose" information. According to the {OMBWatch}, the new message from the Attorney General to agencies is to withhold information from disclosure where possible. She reported Morton Halperin (who served in the federal government in the Johnson and Nixon administrations and in the first Clinton administration) as stating that there is more commitment to secrecy in the current administration than in any other post-World War II administration.

A new category of information has been created called "sensitive but unclassified," that applies to all information that could be used to assist in development of weapons of mass destruction, "regardless of age," that "should not be disclosed inappropriately." It is very vague, and agencies to do not know how to interpret it. It can apply to non-FOIA information, in which case there is no mechanism for challenging it. The effect of "sensitive but unclassified" has been the removal of thousands of documents from the web, as well as editing of documents. Julie distributed a handout she prepared on "Retrieving Government Information for Legitimate Use Post 9/11."


There was some discussion of the requirement for identification and address in order to obtain information, i.e., what is going to be done with that information?

There were questions regarding access to Risk Management Plans. There are about fifty Federal Reading Rooms in the USA where Offsite Consequences Analysis (OCA) Information, in the form of paper copies of Sections 2 through 5 of Risk Management Plans may be viewed (see {}). Identification is required to use these reading rooms and no photocopying is allowed. Patrice McDermott pointed out that, under the new laws, the FBI can start a file on someone without any basis for believing that person is involved in illegal activity. It was emphasized that libraries need to have a written policy regarding patron records and adhere to it. They should get to know the local law enforcement agencies, know what legal processes should be followed, and provide information only under the proper legal process.

Questions were raised about the government point of view. The co-chairs of the Discussion Group had attempted to get a government representative to come to the discussion, but were unsuccessful. It was acknowledged that it is difficult for government employees to accept such invitations, due to various restrictions they are under.

The issue was raised that we don't really know what information is gone. The evidence is mostly anecdotal. We also don't know what information is being created that will not be made available on the web in the first place. Because of the expense of printing, that information may not be made available to depository libraries in that format either. It is difficult to find the balance between the "right to know" and the "need to know."

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