~e; 911: New York off-the-map

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Fri, 1 Mar 2002 23:33:19 -0600

  [this is one of the scariest post 9-11 events in my opinion.
  that is, a subtle censorship of public information, and the
  resulting trouble with trying to do public work in a totally
  hidden/invisible world, if looked at from a traditional view.

  the story does not say 'what' info is not online, but it is
  most obviously some kind of geographic database of info
  on the state of New York's public works (and more than
  that). there is a real need to hide _some info, protect it
  rather, maybe vet on a need-to-know basis, but to yank
  the whole GIS database of public infrastructure is quite
  scary if one is going out to photograph some of it for an
  aesthetic research evaluation.

  when living in California, to go to a small town named
  Crocker, north Bay area, by the Sacremento River, and
  to see the western powerlines, that go all along the coast
  to SF -- from Canada, hundreds of miles of lines in a giant
  corridor, and for someone to know of this and show me and
  then to of course not have a camera at the time, but to know
  that those lines tell a story that is difficult to tell without
  showing, the real event, the tangible aspects of moving
  power internationally. and the dynamics. so a photograph
  is a appropriate, and while 'public utilities' in the USA are
  for the most part 'privately owned', still, they are public
  property in some regard, public information, to be discussed.

  but the conundrum is new now. have been taking as many
  photos as i can in freezing and thawing and refreezing
  weather here, where it is 50 degrees Fahrenheit one day,
  1 degree another. so out on a bicycle, packed with gear,
  a tripod, hardcase for the camera in case i crash on ice,
  clothes, and on the look out for infrastructure photos to
  tell similar types of stories through imagery. yet, when
  taking photos these days, it feels criminal. someone with
  gear that is somewhat odd until completely setup, and then
  to focus on these 'invisible' things, like the e-infrastructure,
  well, i have been trying to figure out a way not to feel as if
  i am a terrorist scoping out things. i just want to take a photo.
  feel like i should wear a 'i am not a terrorist' button, but that
  would probably be a cultural double entendre, and so i have
  been trying to find 'construction/barricade' reflective tape,
  orange and white reflective tape to put on my recumbent bike
  and to even get flags and a sign (like a 'slippery when wet'
  sign modified, somewhat like e-toy, but with a different
  purpose). even have been thinking of an orange vest. if i
  knew where to get the stuff i would, but cannot find any-
  of it, oddly enough. just when it is needed. the sign would
  say something like 'em researcher' or 'em .edu research'
  in long hand. yet then it seems like a permit may be required
  or someday i may have to call and ask if i can take the photo
  of things i would have taken before, but without a large portion
  of people being suspect, because electromagnetism is a very
  difficult reason 'why', as a way of explanation, when it has
  no basis in today's interpretation or value system. thus, there
  is an edge, and this story demonstrates how edgy it can become.]

State Pulls Data From Internet in Attempt to Thwart Terrorists

February 26, 2002


ALBANY, Feb. 25 - The Pataki administration has quietly
ordered state agencies to restrict information available on
the Internet and limit its release through New York's
Freedom of Information Law to prevent terrorists from using
the material, which includes maps of electrical grids and
reservoirs as well as building floor plans.

The new policy, laid out in a confidential memorandum to
agency heads from the state's director of public security,
James K. Kallstrom, is one of the most far-reaching and
restrictive in the nation, according to research librarians
and advocates for open government.

Mr. Kallstrom, a former high-ranking official of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the order was aimed
at preventing details about potential targets, like bridges
and nuclear power plants, from falling into the hands of
terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.

"The intent, clearly, is to remove from the public Web
sites that information that serves no other purpose than to
equip potential terrorists," Mr. Kallstrom said. "This is
not an attempt just to shield legitimate information from
the public."

Some state agencies had removed material in the immediate
aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. But in the
memorandum Mr. Kallstrom issued last month, he said the
Pataki administration was concerned "that there is a
disconcerting amount of potentially compromising
information still publicly accessible."

The agency commissioners were not only instructed to review
again what might be accessible, but were also asked to
classify as "sensitive" and make exempt "information
related to systems, structures, individuals and services
essential to the security, government or economy of the
state." He directed agency heads to remove things like data
about electrical power, gas and oil storage,
transportation, banking and finance, water supply,
emergency services and the continuity of government

The state's new policy guidelines to restrict information
and tighten security are occurring in lock step with the
national debate over how to balance the need for safety and
the public's right to information.

While acknowledging the need for protections against
terrorism, Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the
New York Civil Liberties Union, said the Pataki
administration's new policy "raises serious concerns about
the future of open government" and would allow, in the
worst case, the government to become "a series of secret

Federal officials have removed information, like the
operational status of nuclear plants and certain maps of
the nation's infrastructure, that was once at the
fingertips of anyone with a computer.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has
blocked access to the toxic-release inventory, a listing of
all factories and other sources that emit poisonous
pollution, and has taken information about dangerous
pesticides off its site, environmentalists say.

Some other states have also taken action to limit the free
flow of information. Florida, for instance, has stopped
posting records of drivers' licenses on the state Web

In New York, the Public Service Commission stopped posting
the locations of power plants, including nuclear reactors.
The state's Energy Department erased a detailed map of
power lines and substations from its site. Directions to
stockpiles of water pumps and generators used by the
state's Emergency Management Office during floods or other
disasters are gone from the Internet. So are the locations
of wastewater treatment plants, floor maps of state
buildings and some mapping databases used to analyze
everything from demographics to infrastructure.

A spokeswoman for Governor Pataki said the administration
was still writing more concrete guidelines on what
information would be classified and no longer available.
"It's a work in progress," said Mollie Fullington, the
spokeswoman. "We are putting together a team to review
these very issues."

Some advocates of open government contended that New York's
new rules were too broad and could cover information - like
the locations of chemical factories that emit toxic
pollution - that fuels debates at the core of modern

"No one would argue that the Pataki administration has been
transparent," said Blair Horner, the chief lobbyist for the
New York Public Interest Research Group. "I think there is
a real danger that this directive could be used to further
block from public view information the public should have
access to. The decision on what should be on the Internet
or not on the Internet should be a public discussion, not a
private edict."

Robert J. Freeman, the executive director of the State
Committee on Open Government, said the Freedom of
Information Law in New York State allows officials to
censor some information if releasing it would endanger
people's lives or compromise criminal investigations.

The administration's new directive to block the release of
what it deems sensitive information to people who file
requests under the law could easily be justified under
those rules, he said. "All they are saying is be careful,
be wise," Mr. Freeman said. "All the memo says is comply
with the law."

Ms. Fullington, the governor's spokeswoman, said such
requests would be determined in the future on a
"case-by-case basis."

Mr. Kallstrom's directive also ordered agency heads to
review requests made under the state's Freedom of
Information Law over the last year to determine if anyone
had requested information that might be useful to
terrorists. The purpose, he said, was to find leads for
investigators trying to thwart terrorist plots.

"We are concerned that terrorism - a very serious issue -
doesn't get used to take away information from the public,"
said Rachel Leon, a lobbyist for Common Cause. "You have to
have a balance between security and the public's right to
information. We have to make sure the government doesn't

Mr. Kallstrom says his directives are not intended to keep
the public in the dark on policy matters. He said the
diameter and location of a suspension bridge's cables and
fasteners, for instance, should not be made public. Neither
should details be available about the fencing and gates
around nuclear plants or the access roads leading to water

One example of the new policy is that fuel delivery
schedules and the locations of fuel storage tanks used by
state agencies are no longer posted on the Web, aides to
Mr. Pataki said. Nor are many details about the state's
National Guard posts and units available.

The memorandum also directs agencies to set up security
systems using passwords and other devices to protect the
information they deem sensitive. Mr. Kallstrom has also led
an effort to improve defenses against computer hackers,
offering agencies help in constructing stronger fire walls
against intruders.

As a practical matter, winnowing the information available
on the Internet will force more people to request documents
under the Freedom of Information Law, state officials said.
Since the law requires a written request, a paper trail
would be created for any release of information, making it
easier for law enforcement officials to find out who had
sought the documents.

New York's open-records law does not require public
information to be posted on the Internet, though some bills
have been circulating in the State Legislature that would
do just that. Other laws require that campaign
contributions, payments to lobbyists and information about
doctors be published on the Internet.

Experts on Internet security say the state's crackdown on
information may not be immediately effective. Once
something has been published on the Web, it is hard to
control who copies it or where those copies end up. Some
search engines save information from old Web sites, for
instance, so a terrorist might still be able to find a map
of New York's power grid.

"It's a bit of a horse out of the barn," Mr. Kallstrom
acknowledged. "But you have to start somewhere. We don't
want to unnecessarily and stupidly aid people who want to
kill us."


Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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