Thursday, June 15, 2006

China Confidential

The trial of a researcher for The New York Times, which is to begin here Friday, is evidence of China's increasing reliance on state secrecy laws to tighten control over information.

Critics of the case against Zhao accuse the authorities of applying all-embracing secrecy laws to contain public debate, burgeoning Internet discussion and sometimes rebellious news media.

Even as China's headlong economic boom continues to deliver wider economic and personal freedom, the scope of these laws has been broadened over the past two decades to include almost all information related to the ruling Communist Party and the government.

"The system is actually expanding," said Nicolas Becquelin, a Hong Kong- based researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Basically, anything can be classified as a state secret."

In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians.

The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records.

"The stuff they pulled should never have been removed," he said. "Some of it is mundane, and some of it is outright ridiculous."

A National Security Agency program that listens in on international communications involving people in the United States is both vital to national security and permitted by the Constitution, a government lawyer told a judge here today in the first major court argument on the program.

But, the lawyer went on, addressing Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the Federal District Court, "the evidence we need to demonstrate to you that it lawful cannot be disclosed without that process itself causing grave harm to United States national security."

"The government cannot confirm or deny whether a particular individual is subject to surveillance or what the criteria is."

A federal appeals court panel in Manhattan questioned a lawyer for the federal government yesterday as to whether the Central Intelligence Agency had a legitimate national security interest in refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents authorizing it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas.

But the government has refused to confirm or deny the documents' existence, saying that to do so would jeopardize national security ...

Last month, the New Jersey attorney general quietly issued subpoenas to five telephone companies to determine whether they violated state consumer protection laws by providing records to the National Security Agency.

But on Thursday, the attorney general, Zulima V. Farber, learned that the Justice Department had filed a lawsuit to block those subpoenas, asserting that the state was straying into a federal matter, and that compliance with the subpoenas would damage national security.


Boy, does China sure have a long way to go before they realise the promise of an open, transparent democracy.


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