White House blasted for hoarding data

A Ralph Nader group slammed the administration for blocking access to documents.

CNET News staff
2 min read
The man whose name has become synonymous with consumer advocacy is taking his crusade into the digital age.

Ralph Nader's The Access Project, part of the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, today assailed the Clinton administration for refusing to release a database containing 58 years of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

In a newsletter publicly released this afternoon, TAP Director James Love accused the White House of stonewalling the group's efforts to publish the tax-funded FLITE database of Supreme Court decisions maintained by the Air Force as a free resource on the Internet.

Part of TAP's mission is to make all taxpayer-funded information, such as court documents and congressional records, available free to the public. While TAP has chalked up several successes in this arena, most notably opening up the Security Exchange Commission's vast database of company financial filings, court decision databases have proven a much tougher nut to crack.

Information companies such as West Publishing and Lexis-Nexis make millions of dollars selling electronic access to databases similar to FLITE.

"The only groups which benefit from the government's failure to release copies of U.S. Supreme Court opinions are West Publishing and Lexis, two foreign-owned publishing giants," Love wrote.

TAP last year requested access to the database under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The Air Force denied the request citing a controversial court ruling that "library materials" are not subject to such requests.

This week, West Publishing, Lexis-Nexis, and the Information Industry Association, a Washington-based lobbying group, tried to persuade the House of Representatives to add language to the Freedom of Information laws that would definitively exempt all reference or library materials. But the lobbying effort failed, opening the door for TAP to get access to the FLITE database after all. That's when TAP went on the offensive.

It contacted Sally Katzen, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, an arm of the Office of Management and Budget that serves as the Clinton administration's chief policy maker for privacy and government information issues.

Love published a call to action in the newsletter after Katzen told TAP she was leaving on vacation as of today and wouldn't respond until after her return. Love considers this yet another unnecessary delay after seeking a meeting with Katzen for seven months.

Neither Katzen nor Love were available for comment this afternoon.