Panel votes to require agencies to report data mining activities
Measure gives heads of agencies engaged in or developing a data mining program 180 days to submit a detailed report.
After a six-week delay, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved legislation to require federal agencies to report to Congress on details of any data mining programs they have to harvest travel or other information that could lead to terrorists.
By a voice vote, the panel approved and sent the bill (S. 236) to the Senate. For six weeks, the committee put off action on the measure while staff members wrangled behind closed doors on fine points of the measure. A similar bill (S. 4) that emerged from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed the Senate as part of the so-called 9/11 bill.
During hearings, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said, "We learned that the federal government's use of data mainlining technology has exploded in recent years."
He pointed to a May 2004 Government Accountability Office report that "there are at least 199 different government data mining programs operating or planned throughout the federal government."
But, Leahy added, "The Congress and the public know very little about most of these data mining programs, making them ripe for abuse."
Under the legislation, each head of an agency engaged in or developing a data mining program would have to submit a detailed report within 180 days of the bill's enactment. The report would have to contain a "thorough description" of all aspects of the data mining program.
If there are classified, sensitive law enforcement, proprietary business information or trade secrets, they would have to be put into a separate annex to the main report unavailable to the general public.
The main debate on the bill centered on an amendment by Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., to specifically expose members of Congress or staff members to fines and two year prison sentences for leaking to the media classified material within a report's annex.
By a voice vote, the committee defeated Kyl's amendment after an argument by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., that hearings were needed to determine the scope of his plan. He argued that "all existing laws apply to [leaks of] data mining" Kyl differed and said there were loopholes in current criminal statutes. A Feingold amendment spelling out applicable, existing criminal statutes that would apply to leaks was approved on a party line, 10-9 roll call.
The basic bill was a voice vote-approved substitute by Feingold that made clarifying changes to the original measure.