Internet has trove of privacy, secrecy resources

Robert Gellman

Those who have an interest in information policy matters can find a wealth of resources both on and off the Net. Here are some of my favorites.

Steve Aftergood runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood is the leading independent observer of security classification issues. His Web site, at www.fas.org, has just about all the documents that anyone might need about classification policy and history. Subscribers to his Secrecy News list server receive frequent, timely and useful updates about legislation, events and publications relating to classification policy.

Aftergood's reporting on the case of Wen Ho Lee, the Energy Department scientist accused of espionage, was outstanding. Secrecy News included current reports on developments, as well as links to important news stories.

Even better, his site offers copies of many important documents. If there were a Pulitzer Prize for Web reporting and commentary, Aftergood would win it. To subscribe to the Secrecy News list server, send email to [email protected] with the message 'subscribe secrecy_news' in the body of the email.

Find the best reporting on freedom of information issues through the Access Reports newsletter. Harry Hammitt'an under-appreciated resource'is the publisher. The biweekly newsletter covers federal and state information and privacy cases, hearings, legislation and activities. He also reports on international developments in access and privacy law.

Hammitt has been publishing the newsletter for many years, and he has a tremendous knowledge of Freedom of Information Act case law and administrative practice. He also publishes basic reference material on the federal FOIA and the Privacy Act. Access Reports remains mostly a paper newsletter, but its Web site has some useful materials and links. Point your browser to www.accessreports.com and look around. I only wish Hammitt were less sparing with his own analysis because he is one of the sharpest commentators on FOIA case law anywhere.

If you are interested in privacy policy, I recommend both the Center for Democracy and Technology, at www.cdt.org, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, at www.epic.org. Both groups focus on Internet issues, including privacy, free speech, government surveillance and the like.

Both also have regular newsletters that will keep you up-to-date on Washington policy developments. The two groups have significantly different points of view on some issues.

EPIC just published a new edition of its Privacy Law Sourcebook. This compilation of domestic and foreign laws and documents is an essential resource. Don't process data without it.

CDT recently revised and improved its online privacy materials. Visit www.cdt.org/privacy/guide.

Find even more information policy resources on the Web site of OMB Watch, at www.ombwatch.org. OMB Watch is an advocacy organization that tackles messy, intensely political issues such as nonprofit advocacy, budget and regulation. I figure they do information policy just to relax.

But OMB Watch's work on the information front is thorough and fills a significant gap. OMB Watch focuses on activities at the Office of Management and Budget, and on FOIA and the Privacy Act'areas often neglected by other policy and advocacy groups.

Take a look

OMB Watch regularly produces useful and novel reports. One of its current targets is the Clinton Administration's FirstGov information portal. To keep up with the organization's activities and publications, subscribe to The OMB Watcher Online, a free Internet newsletter.

I've run out of room and feel guilty because I don't have enough space to adequately sing the praises of the National Security Archive, an independent, nongovernmental organization that researches and publishes government documents. It focuses on intelligence and foreign policy and is a unique and outstanding operation. See for yourself at www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv.

If you maintain an information policy resource that I didn't mention, e-mail me a link and I'll try to write about it later.

Robert Gellman is a Washington privacy and information policy consultant. E-mail him at [email protected].


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