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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 17:13 GMT
US tightens controls on websites
Chemical weapon workers, AP
Fears of chemical warfare have escalated since 11 September
Scientists and civil liberties campaigners have expressed concern over the latest effort by the US Government to restrict information available on official websites.

After 11 September, sensitive documents and reports were pulled from government websites due to fears the information could be useful to terrorists.

The US Government has gone one step further, ordering unclassified sensitive information in the public domain to be revaluated.

"The need to protect such sensitive information from inappropriate disclosure should be carefully considered, on a case-by-case basis," reads a memo circulated to all US Government departments.

Examples of information that could be withdrawn include details on heating and air conditioning systems that might help terrorists spread anthrax, and computer maintenance data that could aid hackers wanting to disrupt social security payments.

Step too far

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is concerned that this latest mandate is going too far.

It has already removed hundreds of pages from its website which carries a detailed database of military information.

"One potentially troublesome feature of the new interpretation is the ill-defined category of Sensitive But Unclassified Information," said Steve Aftergood of the FAS in a statement.

"This refers to information that for one reason or another cannot be classified but that is deemed too sensitive for further publication.

"No detailed criteria for conducting such case-by-case consideration are provided, leaving this category seemingly open-ended," he said.

A US group that campaigns for freedom of information, OMB Watch, has also questioned the wide-ranging nature of the memo from the Bush administration.

Safeguard records

Civil liberties groups are concerned that national security could be used as a pretext to keep information from the public.

The memo acknowledges that some sensitive military information is of benefit to the scientific community.

But it makes it clear that every US agency has "an obligation to safeguard government records regarding weapons of mass destruction".

"Government information, regardless of its age, that could reasonably be expected to assist in development or use of weapons of mass destruction, including information about the current stockpiles of nuclear materials that could be exploited for use in such weapons, should not be disclosed inappropriately," the memo goes on.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Scientists fight research controls
19 Nov 01 | Americas
US warning on Iraq bio-weapons
08 Oct 01 | Americas
Websites censored in terror scare
25 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Security through censorship
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