Wikileaks releases 6,780 Congressional reports

With no indication, per usual, as to how it obtained the documents, the whistleblower-enabling organization Wikileaks has just posted to its Web site 6,780 taxpayer-funded Congressional Research Service reports that generally see the light of day only when sponsoring officials judge their contents politically beneficial.

The documents cover the gamut of today's most controversial political issues, including technology-related matters such as national broadband policy, privacy protection of consumer information, emergency response communications, the switch to all-digital television and funding for the National Science Foundation.

From the Wikileaks editorial accompanying its release:

Wikileaks has released nearly a billion dollars worth of quasi-secret reports commissioned by the United States Congress.  The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to abortion legislation. Nearly 2,300 of the reports were updated in the last 12 months, while the oldest report goes back to 1990. The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress's analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year.

Open government lawmakers such as Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) have fought for years make the reports public, with bills being introduced -- and rejected -- almost every year since 1998. The CRS, as a branch of Congress, is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

CRS reports are highly regarded as non-partisan, in-depth, and timely. The reports top the list of the "10 Most-Wanted Government Documents" compiled by the Washington based Center for Democracy and Technology. The Federation of American Scientists, in pushing for the reports to be made public, stated that the "CRS is Congress' Brain and it's useful for the public to be plugged into it." While Wired magazine called their concealment "The biggest Congressional scandal of the digital age."

Although all CRS reports are legally in the public domain, they are quasi-secret because the CRS, as a matter of policy, makes the reports available only to members of Congress, Congressional committees and select sister agencies such as the GAO.

Wikileaks attached that billion-dollar figure to the haul because the reports, while not universally available to the public, are often sold to special interests.

A chronological listing of the reports can be found here (.pdf).

A glance at the reports published merely since the first of the year reveals a handful pertaining to technology issues, including:

-- Broadband Internet Access and the Digital Divide: Federal Assistance Programs, January 15, 2009.

-- Emergency Communications: The Future of 911, January 13, 2009

-- Privacy Protection for Customer Financial Information, January 7, 2009

-- The Transition to Digital Television: Is America Ready?, January 21, 2009

-- U.S. National Science Foundation: Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction, January 12, 2009

Wikileaks document dumps have frequently caused controversy, both here and abroad, with the release of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's e-mail and an attempted debunking of dubious Steve Jobs' medical records being but two examples.

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