North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill to restrict the release of records related to security operations involving “critical infrastructure” — a category that includes fossil fuel pipelines. The bill comes after The Intercept and other media outlets published stories documenting law enforcement surveillance and coordination with private security during the Dakota Access pipeline protests, many of which were based on records released under the North Dakota Open Records Act.
The bill, known as Senate Bill 2209, would amend the North Dakota Century Code to bar the disclosure of public records involving “security planning, mitigation, or threats” pertaining to critical infrastructure facilities. It specifically forbids the release of any critical infrastructure “security systems plan,” which it defines as “records,” “information,” “photographs,” “videos,” and “communications” pertaining to the “security of any public facility” or any “privately owned or leased critical infrastructure.” Among several examples of critical infrastructure systems included in the bill are “utility services, fuel supply, energy, hazardous liquid, natural gas, or coal.”
According to Jesse Franzblau, a transparency law expert and policy analyst at Open the Government, while some of the language in the bill is similar to exemptions in federal laws that restrict public access to critical infrastructure information, “several parts of the bill obviously seem very tailored toward pipeline-related construction and also, given the timing, toward keeping information on security operations against pipeline protesters a secret.”
On January 22, the 47-member North Dakota Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill. If approved by the state’s House of Representatives, it will head to Gov. Doug Burgum’s desk.
Proponents of the bill claim it is necessary to prevent cybersecurity attacks and other dangerous intrusions. “Whether it’s utilities or whether it’s any kind of other industry that we have, all of those are ripe for cyberattacks and that information needs to be secure,” Democratic Sen. Joan Heckaman, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, stated at a January 21 hearing.
Chip Gibbons, policy and legislative counsel at the group Defending Rights & Dissent, says the cybersecurity justification appears to be a smokescreen, particularly since […]