Ashcroft's Justice Dept. witholds list of foreign lobbyists
June 30, 2004 3:12 PM   Subscribe

"This was a new one on us. We weren't aware there were databases that could be destroyed just by copying them," Bob Williams of the Center for Public Integrity said yesterday. The watchdog group in Washington, D.C., made the request in January. He said the group expects to appeal the Justice Department's decision.

posted by wsg at 3:13 PM on June 30, 2004

Oh yeah, I love this tidbit:
The government said that an overhaul of the system should be finished by December and that copies should be available then.
...after the convenient.
posted by wsg at 3:18 PM on June 30, 2004

this is such a crock--they never want to release anything, unless it'll damage one of their enemies.

this should be one of the first things overturned in a Kerry administration: Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered federal agencies in October 2001 to review more closely which documents they release. Ashcroft's policy lets officials withhold information on any "sound legal basis." Under looser policies issued in 1993, agencies could hold back information only to prevent "foreseeable harm."
posted by amberglow at 3:28 PM on June 30, 2004

I can think of at least three excuses that would fall in the same realm :

"The database is set in Adobe Caslon Pro, and until we find our license, our hands are tied by the DMCA."

"The wax cylinders we've been using were unfortunately exposed to the sun last week..."

posted by badzen at 3:55 PM on June 30, 2004

"Trust us, we're incompetent!"

The judge should fire off an injunction blocking use of the database for any purpose until it's stable enough to withstand outside scrutiny. If an export operation is too much for it, then the joins and sorts necessary to make it useful in a production environment would definitely be courting disaster. The administration wouldn't want to risk losing all that precious data, after all. Ahem.

And of course there's no backup that could be provided for the requestors to attempt their own data extraction on. Because if there's one thing a beaurocracy never needs duplicates of it, it's records.

(That Caslon excuse is a thing of genius, badzen. Counting down 3-2-1 until Ashcroft borrows it for the next refusal.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:07 PM on June 30, 2004

When I saw this, I thought, "Why, that means that they can't back it up, for what is a backup but a copy?" If they truly cannot back up their database, they're incompetent (or worse!)
posted by Daddio at 4:15 PM on June 30, 2004

believe me, if they got a tip some of those lobbyists gave money to Kerry, it'd be available.
posted by amberglow at 4:17 PM on June 30, 2004

It's because the Justice Department's mnemonic memory circuits are constructed of stone knives and bearskins, quite obviously. (Quick, get them a tricorder.)
posted by chuq at 4:56 PM on June 30, 2004

Maybe the C64's tape drive is on the fritz.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:05 PM on June 30, 2004

We are laughing now but this is bad news. Is this getting airtime?
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:50 PM on June 30, 2004

It ain't getting enough airtime, I promise. It won't stick anyway. It seems to me that MANY Americans prefer to remain blissfully oblivious.
posted by wsg at 11:59 PM on June 30, 2004

Couldn't they, like, print out a list?
posted by donovan at 12:10 AM on July 1, 2004

posted by wsg at 1:19 AM on July 1, 2004

I imagine that they are trying to prevent media scrutiny of the recent increase in Chinese influence on the US political process. The Heritage Institute has some ties on record.

Or, maybe it's a Saudi link. Probably both
posted by troutfishing at 3:44 AM on July 1, 2004

Worst. Presidency. Ever.

I hereby volunteer my services to Asscroft to provide copies of the requested information with the assurances that the system will not be "down" due to the process.
No charge.
The least I can do for my country.

I'm very interested in what the Defenders Of All Things Duhbya have to say about this.

Hello? [...crickets...]
posted by nofundy at 5:04 AM on July 1, 2004

Marketplace mentioned this briefly last night. You can listen to the show there via RealAudio.
posted by of strange foe at 7:25 AM on July 1, 2004

Now that's exploiting public ignorance on how database work. When did they hire the BOFH ? OH wait...
posted by elpapacito at 7:44 AM on July 1, 2004

posted by dejah420 at 10:11 AM on July 1, 2004

Couldn't they, like, print out a list?

No, printing would break the printer.
posted by wsg at 10:14 AM on July 1, 2004

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