The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 16, 2014

U.S. cites security more to censor, deny records

(Continued)

"The public is frustrated and unhappy with the pace of responses and the amount of information provided," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said at the same congressional hearing. "There's a common reaction for anybody who has any experience with it that it doesn't function well."

John Cook, the incoming new editor at the Intercept, the online magazine founded by investor Pierre Omidyar, said his experience under the open records law was "abysmal" but not especially worse last year than previously. "It's a bureaucracy," Cook said. "As often as it's about trying to keep data from falling into the hands of reporters, it's the contractor looking for ways to reduce the caseload. It's just bureaucrats trying to get home earlier and have less to do."

The AP could not determine whether the administration was abusing the national security exception or whether the public asked for more documents about sensitive subjects. The NSA said its 138 percent surge in records requests were from people asking whether it had collected their phone or email records, which it generally refuses to confirm or deny. To do otherwise, the NSA said, would pose an "an unacceptable risk" because terrorists could check to see whether the U.S. had detected their activities. It censored records or fully denied access to them in 4,246 out of 4,328 requests, or 98 percent of the time.

Journalists and others who need information quickly to report breaking news fared worse than ever last year. Blocking news organizations from urgently obtaining records about a government scandal or crisis — such as the NSA's phone-records collection, Boston bombings, trouble with its health care website, the deadly shootings at the Washington Navy Yard or the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi — can delay uncovering significant developments until after decisions are made and the public's interest has waned.

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