- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

The White House Office of Homeland Security lost a legal battle to conceal public records on its discussions of a national ID system and travel identification technology.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled against the office's motion to dismiss the court case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit watchdog group on the effects of government activities on civil liberties and privacy.
The group filed the lawsuit in March after the White House office refused a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to turn over memos, talking points, reports and draft legislation dealing with any effort to standardize driver's licenses across the country.
EPIC also sought information on the creation of biometric technology for a "trusted flier" program to identify airline passengers through retina and facial scans.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly instead ordered that the case move to the discovery and deposition phase, a victory for EPIC.
"This decision goes beyond the significance of a specific issue. The question is whether the activities of the Office of Homeland Security are going to be subjected to public oversight in the way that every other federal entity is," said David Sobel, general counsel for EPIC.
The group has 60 days from the court decision, issued Dec. 26, to provide documentation that the White House office is an agency and subject to FOIA.
The White House argues that the office and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge are advisers to the president and thus exempt from the act.
"We are in the process of reviewing the opinion and we will be working with the Department of Justice to determine the appropriate course of legal action to pursue," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security.
"At this point in time, we have a couple of months to file, and we will have reaction when we determine where we are going," Mr. Roehrkasse said.
The case was filed before Congress took action to create the Department of Homeland Security, which President Bush signed into law Nov. 25.
The legislation contained a clause forbidding the creation of a national identification card, but Mr. Sobel said a similar program could be worked around the legislation.
"It continues to be important to know what the White House has looked at and what was being proposed it still might be in the works. There remains a lot of interest in the identification system, whether in the form of a full-blown ID card or to develop the so-called 'trusted flier' system. I think those programs are still very much under consideration," Mr. Sobel said.
Public access to information in the current Homeland Security Office also is necessary because the office will oversee creation of the new department in the coming year, he said.
"I think it is now even more important that entity not be beyond the reach of our open-government laws," Mr. Sobel said.
EPIC has a separate court case pending against the Defense Department to comply with a Nov. 21 request for copies of records maintained by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and all documents related to the Total Information Awareness program.
Critics of the program, designed to collect information to capture terrorists, say it will violate civil liberties by collecting financial and other sensitive information of ordinary citizens.

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