Document Not Found

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

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily 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.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight 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