The U.S. Coast Guard has announced it will withhold the names of people saved in rescue cases unless they are part of an “open and active” search-and-rescue operation.
Once a rescue case is closed, queries for names must be made through a Freedom of Information Act request. The new nationwide policy was revealed in a memo released Aug. 24 by Rear Adm. David Pekoske, assistant commandant for operations. The policy went into effect immediately.
The directive acknowledges that “the release of information to the public concerning individuals being sought or having been rescued by the Coast Guard often supports the [search-and-rescue] mission.”
The Coast Guard says the new rule protects the privacy of those rescued.
“We wanted to balance the privacy right of individuals with the public’s need to know when search-and-rescue cases are active,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Angela Hirsch. “When a boat is missing, we put out the names of people who are missing. There are many cases where people are reported missing, and they turn up or are not missing. Obviously, there is a need for names to be released in these cases. But once a case is resolved, it is no longer open, and names are then not releasable without an FOI request.”
Loren Cochran, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the Coast Guard’s new policy was troubling.
“Any time you have a government agency that refuses to turn over information that the public is legally entitled to, it causes real concern,” Cochran said. “In this case, it looks like the Coast Guard has developed a practice in which they are controlling when to disclose the names of those rescued. That selective disclosure makes the public wonder, ‘Why?’ Is it because the Coast Guard only wants to disclose positive information?”
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
A Woeful Access Policy at the Coast Guard...
This is an interesting piece from the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center on the Coast Guard's access policies...reminds me a of similar position that the National Parks Service took, briefly, a couple of years ago out West. That one bit the dust, if memory serves, because families of victims trying to put together the puzzle of what happened to their loved ones kept running into secrecy...