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Monday, February 18, 2008

A Security Exemption Looms in Virginia

I like the lead of this story:

In the basement of a building between an IHOP and a car dealership sits the nexus of Virginia’s fight against terror.

There, people who need special clearances pass through layer after layer of security on their way to a conference room so secure no one can have a cell phone or a piece of electronic equipment inside. The door locks alone cost $4,000 apiece.

Most people know little about the Virginia Fusion Center. And if a bill quietly wending through the General Assembly becomes law, they’ll know even less.

The bill, coincidentally named HB1007, would exempt the center’s investigative and intelligence documentation from the state Freedom of Information Act and would shield its employees from subpoenas in civil lawsuits concerning criminal intelligence information or terrorism investigations.

Open government watchdogs decried the bill. They said it goes too far in giving additional furtive powers to a quasi-secret agency. They point to the measure as another cramp to personal freedoms in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, era....

The bill passed the House 98-1, and a Senate panel could hear it this week. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine supports the measure, according to a spokesman.

The Virginia Press Association and the Virginia Coalition for Open Government have lobbied against the bill. The Virginian-Pilot is a member of the press association and is a founding partner of the Coalition for Open Government....

Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, calls HB1007 “Big Brother at work.”

Stanley said it is understandable to restrict information about terror investigations but that blocking public access to records related to “criminal intelligence” – as the bill reads – is overbroad and could apply to anything.

That would “allow them to keep private every piece of information,” she said. “They need protection to a point, but they take it way beyond that.”

More here.

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