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Vol. 74/No. 44      November 22, 2010

Gov’t secrecy grows with ‘transparency’
(front page)
In the latest move to legitimize government secrecy, an executive order issued by President Barack Obama November 4 announced a program to standardize procedures for restricting public access to “unclassified” information. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) praised the order as “a welcome step toward ensuring that our government agencies can no longer withhold information without oversight." Meanwhile, the administration builds on its record as the most secretive and snooping in recent decades.

Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, the White House is seeking to overhaul the 1994 Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act to ensure that phones and networks of cellular and broadband carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast can be wiretapped as upgrades are introduced. The government also plans to bring Internet companies that enable communications like Gmail, Facebook, Blackberry, and Skype under the law's mandate for the first time.

Last month the Pentagon announced a program called Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales that would scan billions of e-mails for "anomalies" in behavior.

The Obama administration backs an expanded program of surveillance by the National Security Agency in which the legal dressing of official warrants or court approvals are no longer required. Established under the George W. Bush administration, the measure provided the White House with "virtually unchecked power to conduct dragnet collection of Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls without a warrant or suspicion of any kind," stated an ACLU news release.  
Information requests rejected
The president presented himself an advocate of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) on his first day in office, saying it "encourages accountability through transparency" and is a "commitment to ensuring an open government."

But more FOIA requests were rejected in the first year of Obama's presidency than the year before. According to an AP review, 17 federal agencies rejected releasing government documents more than 466,000 times in fiscal year 2009, compared to 312,000 in 2008.

Most documents that were not released detail internal government decision-making. In 2009 exemptions from disclosure for these kinds of records were used more than 70,000 times, up from 47,400 during President George W. Bush’s final budget year.

A federal appeals court upheld the administration’s invocation of “state secrets” privilege and threw out a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against a Boeing subsidiary for the company’s part in the U.S. government’s “extraordinary renditions” program. The suit was filed on behalf of five individuals who say they were tortured overseas under the program.

The government has also stonewalled the release of FOIA requests related to business secrets. Bloomberg News has tried since January 2009 to get information from the Department of the Treasury about $301 billion of securities owned by Citigroup that the government guarantees.

Further facts have come to light about government spying on "social networking" Web sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr. A lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against half a dozen federal agencies forced the government to release a document about its "Social Networking Monitoring Center" run by the Department of Homeland Security. It was set up at the time of Obama's inauguration to spy on those applying for citizenship.  
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