NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Post-9/11 Fears Prompt Officials to Restrict Public Records

January 29, 2002

After the Sept. 11 attacks, federal officials removed certain public records from Internet sites, public libraries and department reading rooms. Now governors, attorneys general and legislators in some states want to restrict public access to some records, too. The trend has advocates of open government concerned.

At the federal level, the types of data put under restrictions included diagrams of dams, power plants and pipelines, details of hazardous waste sites and transport routes, and safety plans for chemical plants.

At the state level:

  • Idaho is considering a bill to allow judges to close public records if state agencies say releasing them threatens government officials or the public; it would also bar public access to evacuation plans and building blueprints.
  • A Missouri bill would let local water and sewer boards close their meetings when discussing plans for guarding against terrorist attacks.
  • The Florida Senate has amended its rules to allow closed meetings to discuss anti-terrorist measures -- and a bill would close records on anyone who flies or sells crop-duster aircraft.
  • A Washington state bill would keep terrorism response plans secret and close databases of materials used to prepare for attacks.

Another Idaho measure would close documents regarding transporting and storing hazardous nuclear materials. But some civil liberties advocates argue that for the public to protect itself, it needs to know where those items are.

Source: Patrick O'Driscoll, "Post 9/11 Laws May Put Public Records, Info Under Wraps," USA Today, January 29, 2002.


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