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March 11, 2002
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Talks Ongoing Over What's Public After Terrorist Attacks

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma law enforcement officials and media representatives are involved in ongoing talks about whether last fall's terrorist attacks are reason to keep more state records from the public.

The Oklahoma Press Association is meeting with the Department of Public Safety to discuss what information should be kept confidential in the name of public security.

Several bills proposed at the Legislature this year aim to change public information laws.

Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said he can accept most of the major anti-terrorism bills. But others are a problem.

For example, Senate Bill 1472 by Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, would require the Department of Public Safety to keep confidential all records dealing with "security functions, including but not limited to surveillance tapes, security plans, and security surveys."

Thomas has asked DPS officials to make the "security functions" more specific.

DPS officials returned with a proposal that replaced "security functions" with "security measures" and expanded the restrictions to all state agencies.

Thomas said he was concerned that under the proposed measure, state agencies and even schools could keep confidential even those records that show how much state officials were paid or how many dollars were spent on non-security issues.

Pruitt said he has agreed to let the media and DPS officials work out their differences before taking the bill to a vote of the entire Senate.

The state's open records law already gives authorities broad latitude in what can be kept confidential, Thomas said. He said current law allows surveillance tapes and other items to remain confidential, but gives authorities the opportunity to disclose the information if it might help solve a crime.

The Joint Homeland Security Task Force reported that witnesses at its hearings advocated changing the state's open records and open meeting acts to protect sensitive information and security intelligence.

The task force was told that private companies were reluctant to share information with the state to help draw up threat assessment and terrorism response plans because they feared the information could become public.

The information includes descriptions of power generation grids, computer systems, pipelines and company security systems, the task force reported.

The Senate failed to pass a measure protecting such information after critics complained it could prevent the public from knowing where pipelines crossed their property or how to shut off the pipes in cases of emergency.

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