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Impact of intelligence unit secrecy limited by committee
Scope of FOIA exemption limited by intelligence agency


Date published: 2/29/2008

RICHMOND

--A Senate committee has approved a bill that would shield employees of a state police intelligence center from subpoena, and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act information gathered by that center.

But the committee amended the bill to limit the scope of protected information, in an effort to satisfy open-government groups that had decried the bill.

Originally, the bill cloaked a vague, wide swath of criminal information in secrecy.

Any information that went through the Virginia Fusion Information Center would have been protected under the bill.

Supporters say the bill is necessary to protect investigations into possible terrorist activities, and to ensure that federal agencies are willing to share their own information with state authorities.

But opponents said the bill was too broad, going too far in exempting any criminal information that came into the scope of the Fusion Center.

Senators listened, and now the bill is more restricted; it limits its protections to information related to terrorism, not just crime in general, and a review is to be conducted each year to make sure.

"We tried mighty hard to address all the concerns that the media had," said Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Martinsville.

The distinction between regular criminal information and terrorism information was one brought up by the Virginia Press Association when the bill was in a House committee earlier this session.

At that time, delegates argued it was impossible to separate crime and terrorism because terrorists often engage in other types of crime.

Those same delegates will have to approve this new version of the bill.

Chelyen Davis: 804/782-9362
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com