Don't unravel Web

Thomas R. Temin

When gun control first became a national issue, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, 'If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.' Neanderthal as it might make me seem, I find a certain truth in that statement.

Having some of the strictest gun controls anywhere has failed to relieve Washington of periodic waves of gun violence that would do Dodge City proud.

So I am dismayed at the wholesale scrubbing of federal Web sites going on, all in the name of keeping info away from terrorists [GCN, Nov. 5, Page 10]. How tough it must be for webmasters, some of whom have spent the last seven years creating a rich fabric of easy-to-find information, to remove file after file.

More disturbing is the apparent lack of policy governing two crucial questions.

First, are the deleted records no longer public records, or can people access the information at the Government Printing Office, in agency reading rooms or via Freedom of Information Act requests? If not, what criteria are being used to decide what is no longer public?

Second, if the records are still public, what is the objective of removing them only from the Web?

One argument says there is a nonlinear power ratio between paper files and the Internet, that the speed of retrieval and ease of aggregation of online information make the Internet much more than simply a convenient alternative to paper.

If that is true, the implied corollary'that removing information from the Web will deter terrorists'certainly is not. Those thugs the United States is trying to wipe out were not deterred by airport security, immigration laws, and lack of skill in steering jumbo jets or concocting exotic poisons.

Does anyone seriously think removing the Web locations of pipelines, nuclear plants or drinking-water aquifers will stop the jihad boys?

Just as outlawing guns can't stop gun crime, neither will scrubbing public information from the Web stop terrorists from their self-appointed rounds.

In the heat of the moment, an agency manager's instinct to pull back information is understandable. But in the absence of coherent and comprehensive policy, it's not a justifiable one to act on.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@postnewsweektech.com

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