Sunshine Laws May Be Headed for Twilight

America should be on guard, not only from weapons and hijacked planes, but from resourceful terrorists as well, a Massachusetts state lawmaker warned Wednesday.

"Anyone can walk in off the street and can demand the most sensitive information about our security, about the efforts the law enforcement in dealing with public and private companies, and without giving basic information who you are, why you are looking for this information, and who you are planning on sharing it with. That's crazy," said Paul J. Loscocco.

Loscocco, a Republican member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, recently introduced legislation that would make it harder to access government papers. He said the bill would make it so terrorists would not be able to obtain sensitive materials that could be used against the nation, but opponents say that well-meaning Americans would not have a right to government information.

Loscocco said his goal is to make sure that terrorists can't take advantage of the extreme openness of American society and laws and then use that against the nation. And he is not alone.

Legislatures in 22 states have either passed or are considering new limits on access to government information, a move that has civil libertarians crying that an abundance of caution has resulted in an assault on open government.

"We think it would be a grave mistake to block out these sunshine laws," said Emily Sheketoff of the American Library Association.

Sunshine laws — passed by many states in the 1970s in response to citizen cynicism over Watergate — were designed to guarantee access to government meetings and records and to let citizens know what their government is doing.

Loscocco said reducing the sunshine on some information is the price Americans have to pay to prevent another Sept. 11. But, he adds, access will only be denied to people who would use that information for ill will.

"We're not trying to keep people from knowing what the government is doing. The only basis for the information not to be disclosed to the public would be if the head of the agency of that particular agency actually says that the release of that information would be contrary to the public health, safety and security. This is a false fear," Loscocco said.