Court Denies Office of Homeland Security Motion
Friday 3 January 2003 07:45 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Office of Homeland Security lost a round in efforts to keep its activities private with a federal court ruling that it must answer questions about its operations and activities.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last week ruled that the White House office must show it had no independent authority in a ruling denying a motion to dismiss a privacy group's lawsuit seeking material under the Freedom of Information Act. The ruling was made public on Thursday.

The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center last March requested Office of Homeland Security records on proposals for standardized U.S. driver's licenses, records associated with a "trusted-flier" program and other proposals concerning biometric technology for identifying individuals.

The Office of Homeland Security sought to have the case against the office and its director Tom Ridge dismissed, arguing that it could not be subjected to the Freedom of Information Act information requests because it was not an agency and that its sole function was to advise and assist the president.

President Bush established a U.S. Department of Homeland Security in November and nominated Ridge to head the new Cabinet-level agency.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling granted the Electronic Privacy Information Center's request to obtain information that would establish the status of the White House Office of Homeland Security.

A White House spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the ruling a critical step in a case about "openness" in government.

"There's been a lot of secrecy in the activities of this office ... We think that the activity of this office, like the activity of other federal offices should be open," Rotenberg told Reuters.

"So many of the original plans, program goals and objectives were set out in the office," he said. "If you want to get a sense of what this new agency will do, we think it's important to see what its precursor did."

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A federal court has ruled against the Office of Homeland Security in a "case that is a critical step about 'openness' in government." At issue was whether the Office of Homeland Security had to supply information that was requested, under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center had requested documents regarding plans for standardized drivers licenses, as well as other measures to be used to identify and profile people.

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