September 30, 2005

Intelligence Authorization Bill Supports Funding for Declassified Board

Panel to review classification decisions has languished for lack of funds;Separate provisions in FY2006 authorization raise serious privacy concerns

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, today announced that the FY2006 Intelligence Authorization legislation approved by the Committee now recommends ongoing funding for the government's Public Interest Declassification Board. Every year the government spends billions of dollars to classify millions of documents, often without justification. Wyden and U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.) were successful last year in expanding the mandate of the Board, first created in 2000, to give it authority to review classification requests made by Congress and the Executive branch; however, the Board has not been slated to receive funding to operate. In addition to calling on the Administration to include funding for the Board in future budget requests, the bill also calls for the Director of National Intelligence to review all classification guidelines, and propose standards to modernize and simplify the classification system. While praising this change, Wyden also expressed serious reservations today about two provisions he opposed during the bill's consideration that would impact privacy rights. "Shining sunlight on intelligence information for the benefit of Americans and policymakers alike is critical to our security, and so I'm pleased that this bill makes progress in giving the Public Interest Declassification Board some legs," said Wyden. "At the same time, I have serious reservations about provisions in this legislation that could gut privacy rights in the name of national security. As Congress works to improve information sharing, we must make sure that safeguards remain in place to ensure that sensitive personal information is not tossed around inappropriately." The Privacy Act provision of concern to Senator Wyden would permit intelligence agencies to request information from other government agencies simply by making a written request to those agencies and asserting that the information is relevant to "intelligence activity." There would be no requirement for this activity to be connected to a formal investigation. The provision includes no requirement for the intelligence agency to offer any sort of evidence to support their claim. It calls on the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to monitor implementation of these changes to the law, but this Board has not yet been formed. The other privacy-related provision of concern would strip a current requirement that military intelligence officers disclose their government affiliation when making contacts with U.S. persons on U.S. soil to find out if they are interested in assisting, in a variety of ways, the U.S. Government. Under the provision as included in legislation approved by the Intelligence Committee, the disclosure requirement would be lifted. Wyden said today that he will work with his colleagues to remove or alter these two provisions as the legislation moves forward. The FY 2006 Intelligence Authorization measure will now be considered by the Senate Armed Services Committee before being considered by the full Senate.