DHS Says It Cannot Stop Private Posting of Sensitive Info

04.19.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The law does not authorize the Department of Homeland Security to regulate or penalize the publication of sensitive transportation security-related information on private websites, the Department advised Congress (pdf) recently.

Last December, the Transportation Security Administration inadvertently posted a manual marked “sensitive security information” that described procedures for screening of airline passengers.  Following its discovery, the manual was removed from government websites, but it had already been mirrored on non-governmental websites that continue to host the document.

What is DHS going to do about that?, several members of Congress wanted to know.  The answer is this: nothing.

“How has the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration addressed the repeated reposting of this security manual to other websites and what legal action, if any, can be taken to compel its removal?” wrote Reps. Peter T. King (R-NY), Charles W. Dent (R-PA) and Gus M. Bilirakis (R-FL) on December 9 (pdf).

“No action has been initiated by the agency to address reposting on other web sites,” DHS replied in a February 7 response that was released this month under the Freedom of Information Act.  Existing “statutes do not provide specific authority to remedy the dissemination of SSI [sensitive security information] by noncovered persons [who are not subject to DHS jurisdiction].”

If Congress wanted to try to compel removal of such material from public websites, DHS said, “specific new statutory authority… would be necessary to provide enhanced legal support to pursue the full range of civil and criminal remedies against unauthorized dissemination of SSI by persons who are not covered persons as defined by 49 C.F.R. §1520.7.”