Too Much Information?
R. A. Hettinga
rah at shipwright.com
Thu Aug 12 18:06:14 PDT 2004
Too Much Information?
Web Site Raises Questions About Public Access to Sensitive Government Info
Aug. 12, 2004- John Young, a 69-year-old architect, was contacted a few
weeks ago by Department of Homeland Security officials, who expressed
concern about what he was posting on his Web site.
Officials questioned Young about information he had posted about the 2004
Democratic National Convention, including satellite photos of the
convention site and the location of specific police barricades referred to
on the site as "a complete joke."
In response to a complaint, two special agents from the FBI's
counterterrorism office in New York City interviewed Young in November 2003.
"They said, 'Why didn't you call us about this? Why are you telling the
public?' And we said, 'Because it's out there and you can see it. You folks
weren't doing anything,' " Young told ABC News.
The agents, according to Young, stressed they knew that nothing on the
site was illegal. Young added: "They said, 'What we'd like you to do, if
you're approached by anyone that you think intends to harm the United
States, we're asking you to let us know that.' "
"I know there are a lot of people in the government who find him
troublesome," said former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, now
an ABC News consultant. "There is a real tension here between the public's
right to know and civil liberties, on the one hand, and security on the
But Young argues his actions enhance national security, since he points
out to the public vulnerabilities the government does not want to
Like others who run similar Web sites, Young does so by using information
from the public domain, such as:
* Photographs of preparations for the upcoming Republican National
Convention at New York City's Madison Square Garden
* Detailed maps of bridges and tunnels leading in and out of Manhattan
* Maps of New York City's single natural gas pipeline
* The location of an underground nuclear weapons storage complex in New Mexico
Enabling the Enemy?
"I think it's very, very bad for the country to have anyone putting
together information that makes it easier for anyone that wants to injure
Americans to do so," said Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., chair of the House
Homeland Security Committee.
Law enforcement officials were particularly upset that Young posted the
satellite photos and addresses for the homes of top Bush administration
"We think public officials should be totally transparent. There should be
no secrecy," said Young. "We are opposed to government secrecy in all of
Officials call that argument outrageous and argue some secrecy is necessary.
"The Department of Homeland Security has taken aggressive measures to
protect critical infrastructure across the country," said a Department of
Homeland Security spokeswoman. "We discourage Web posting of detailed
information about critical infrastructure. This information is not helpful
to our ongoing efforts to protect the American people and our nation's
When asked how he would respond to those who consider his Web site
unpatriotic since it could provide useful information for those who seek to
harm the United States, Young said, "If this is not done, more Americans
are going to die. More harm is going to come to the United States. It is
more patriotic to get information out than to withhold it."
Officials acknowledge there is not much they can do; Young has not broken
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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