Document Not Found

Government agencies scramble to take sensitive information off their web sites.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Like others who champion the public’s right to easy access to government information, Gary Bass calls the Internet a “grand experiment in democracy.” But that experiment may have taken a devastating blow following September 11, when agencies scrambled to purge their Web sites of any information that could aid terrorists. In the process, officials removed reams of data that Bass’ OMB Watch and other groups had worked for years to make public.

For a while, visitors to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Web site found it entirely shut down. Pipeline-mapping information, a database of airport-security violations, and most of the Department of Energy’s records on nuclear transports also vanished. The Environmental Protection Agency removed its “community right to know” database–established in 1986 over industry objections–on places where hazardous substances are stored. The move frustrated emergency workers as much as it did potential terrorists, since firefighters and others often use the EPA’s data to assess risks at industrial facilities.

Not all the public information removed from government sites has vanished entirely: Much of it is cached on other sites or is available in harder-to-access paper files at government offices and libraries. Still, no one knows how long the information freeze might last, how it might change what the public has a right to know, or even if it will protect anyone. “Hiding information about the potential risks won’t make them go away,” warns Bass.

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate