Tuesday, November 16, 2004

New Jersey plan to seal data runs afoul of health groups

A plan to shield New Jersey government records from the eyes of terrorists is drawing objections from environmental and public health advocates, who say it also would keep workers and residents in the dark about potential exposure to hazardous materials, the Star-Ledger reports. The proposed regulations, designed to clarify anti-terror limits on the state's Open Public Records Act, prohibit agencies from releasing any plans that detail a building's inner workings.

They also make secret all records of airports, mass transit facilities, bridges, tunnels, public utilities, emergency-response facilities, arenas, stadiums, state-owned buildings and storage sites for hazardous materials, the report says. Also confidential would be records showing where explosives or pharmaceuticals are stored, how nuclear power plants operate, how emergency-response teams are deployed, or that disclose the outbreak of contagious diseases among animals.

To gain access to any of these records, the report says, a member of the public would need permission from the attorney general's Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and the head of a Cabinet-level state agency. The agency head would be free to release a record only if there were a "bona fide need for public access."

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