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Home arrow Opinion arrow Our View arrow LAW MAY BE GOING TOO FAR ON SECRECY

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LAW MAY BE GOING TOO FAR ON SECRECY

A red flag has been raised over secrecy provisions in the Homeland Security Bill. The legislation has been approved by the House and was poised to pass the Senate Tuesday night.

NO ONE SHOULD question the ability of government to keep confidential information out of the hands of terrorists. But will the bill, establishing the Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department, unnecessarily erect barriers making it nearly impossible for the media and public's requests to be honored under the Freedom of Information Act?

The Bush administration and the business community argue that the nature of the new Cabinet-level department puts a premium on discretion and that the private sector needs assurances of confidentiality if it is to cooperate with the government on terrorist threat issues.

That may sound well and fine, but the Homeland Security Bill could tip the balance against the public's legitimate right to gain information about serious health and safety issues unrelated to terrorism.

EXAMPLES WERE given this week in an Associated Press story. Under the proposed law, a nuclear plant and the Homeland Security Department could withhold information about a security danger. The legislation also raises the possibility that the public may not know about issues ranging from defects with railroad tracks to problems with blood supplies.

Secrecy laws related to homeland security should provide protection for the public when there are terrorist threats. The law should not be a means of shielding private corporations from public scrutiny. Any bill coming out of Congress that significantly restricts access to information regarding health and safety issues important to Americans smacks in the face of what the public needs to know. Let's hope Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden weighed the bill carefully.

A FEW MILLION MORE

How many books, documents, sound recordings, films and periodicals does a student at Eastern Oregon University or a resident of Northeast Oregon need? Does 9 million sound about right?

Under most circumstances, that many books or other library materials is more than sufficient. And that's how many items were available for inter-library loan to Oregonians through the Orbis consortium. Orbis is a computer-based lending program involving EOU, Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, Willamette University and numerous other public and private colleges in the state.

Orbis has reached out to join forces with the Cascade consortium, involving libraries in several public and private universities in Washington state to create the Orbis Cascade Alliance. By next fall the alliance will offer more than 22 million books and other resources to the people of the two states. Patricia Cutright, EOU's library director and chair of Orbis, has been no small player in bringing the project together.

Students and citizens, looking for that one obscure book or document to complete a research project or paper, will benefit from the system. Cutright and others working hard on the consortium should be congratulated for their expanded vision of what can be.

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