Congress Imposes Limits on Sensitive Security Information

Congress adopted legislation that limits the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to withhold so-called “sensitive security information” (SSI), which is a category of restricted information related to transportation security.

The 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act would, among other things, require “the release of certain SSI information that is three years old unless the Secretary makes a written determination that identifies a rational reason why the information must remain SSI.”

The measure was signed into law by the President on October 4.

Former Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho), who died this week, once challenged an airport security official who wanted to pat her down before boarding an airliner. She demanded to see the regulation that authorized such an action. The official refused, indicating that it was SSI and could not be shared with a member of the public. Rep. Chenoweth declined to submit, and took a car instead.

I retold this story in “The Secrets of Flight,” Slate, November 18, 2004.

Whether the government can impose such “secret law” is a question that has recently been presented to the Supreme Court by John Gilmore, who was told that he could not have access to the regulation requiring him to show his identification at the airport.

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