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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Official Secrets Act is Back...

Well, a demon from the not-so-distant past has reared its ugly head again...


There's a new effort to create an Official Secrets Act, and this one is even more dangerous than Sen. Kit Bond's effort in the last session. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, plans to introduce an amendment to a totally unrelated bill when it goes to committee markup on Thursday. That bill, S 236, deals with data mining and has nothing to do with classified information

Kyl proposes to expand Section 798 of the Espionage Act of 1917 to make it a criminal act to communicate or publish any classified information "concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity" and expand the penalty to 20 years in prison.

That's about as broad and vague as a piece of legislation can be. It would give the government tremendous power to silence its critics and to limit the debate and discussion on the techniques it elects to use in the war on terror.


The proposed amendment would change 18 U.S.C. Sec. 798(a) to read as follows (Changes in boldface)

TITLE 18, PART I, CHAPTER 37 § 798

§ 798. Disclosure of classified information
(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States or for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information—
(1) concerning the nature, preparation, or use of any code, cipher, or cryptographic system of the United States or any foreign government; or
(2) concerning the design, construction, use, maintenance, or repair of any device, apparatus, or appliance used or prepared or planned for use by the United States or any foreign government for cryptographic or communication intelligence purposes; or
(3) concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government; or
(4) obtained by the processes of communication intelligence from the communications of any foreign government, knowing the same to have been obtained by such processes or
(5) concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity” and shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.


This is a cheap imitation of the British "Official Secrets Act," and a poorly written one, at that. It criminalizes any disclosure of classified information, regardless of lack of intent, even lack of knowledge that the information was classified, and contains no recognition of any public interest in such disclsoures. The community of press freedom advocates -- and the institutional press of the United States -- should fight this as hard as they can. It is a disastrous idea.

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