Washington, DC – President Bush’s proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security also would create a new type of crime that can only be committed by a federal employee – the crime of disclosing corporate information. The plan empowers private companies to bar the government from using corporate information in warnings to the public or emergency response crews even where that information would save lives.
Under this bill, information voluntarily submitted by corporations about their “critical infrastructure” would not only be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act but also classified by law as confidential. Any federal employee who “publishes, divulges, discloses or makes known in any manner” any aspect of a corporate submittal “shall be fined …, imprisoned not more than one year, or both, and shall be removed from office or employment.”
Representative Tom Davis (R-VA), a lead author of this plan now before the full House of Representatives, denies that his bill creates a new corporate immunity. Mr. Davis’ response is that it allows use of submitted information for “criminal prosecutions” but he neglects to mention that the information could not be used in any civil prosecution or administrative action against unethical or predatory corporate players.
In one scenario, an agency press secretary or public information officer answering a reporter’s questions about an explosion or other mishap at a nuclear power plant, oil refinery or other facility that previously submitted “critical infrastructure information” could be punished for –
Confirming information already widely known;
Revealing information with the company’s permission but absent a written consent form; and
Disclosing a trivial aspect of the company’s submission that has no possible security implications.
Ironically, any information the company is required to submit to the government, for purpose of licensure or enforcement, may still be revealed even if that information is far more sensitive than that contained in its voluntary submittal.
At the same time, government warnings or alerts to the public or to threatened sectors may not reveal anything relating “specifically to the submitting person or entity” even if that information was of critical importance to saving lives or minimizing damages.
“This plan allows corporations to define the zone of confidentiality and the attendant crime regardless of the public interest in disclosure,” commented Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Mr. Davis’ bill is not about homeland security; it is about keeping boardroom secrets at taxpayer expense,” said Ruch.
To obtain a copy of the bill, call 202.265.7337.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals, working to protect the environment.