By: Christopher Newton, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Federal agencies are scrutinizing their Web sites and striking any information they believe terrorists might use to plot attacks against the nation.
The move is quickly reversing strides the government has made over the last decade toward providing public information online.
The review of the government’s Web sites is wide in scope. It is unclear whether a specific guideline has been passed down which types of information should be removed.
There also is no uniform process for the review, according to some agency officials. Some federal agencies are not commenting on whether they are removing information from their Web sites, while others give vague descriptions of their deletions.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut down its Web site Wednesday.
NRC spokesman William Beecher said the agency plans to remove the coordinates of the nation’s 103 commercial nuclear power reactors, among other information.
When Internet surfers try to visit the NRC Web site, they find a note that says, “In support of our mission to protect public health and safety, we are performing a review of all material on our site. We appreciate your patience and understanding during these difficult times.”
Beecher said most of the information being taken down has been there for years.
“In most cases it is common information, nothing top secret was on the Web site to begin with,” Beecher said. “We just don’t want to provide anything that a terrorist might find helpful.”
Federal agencies have been reviewing their sites in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Bush spokeswoman Anne Womack said the White House has not requested that they do so — the reviews are voluntary.
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken down a Web site with information about emergency plans and chemicals at 15,000 sites nationwide.
Also this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed a vague report about security at chemical plants from its Web site.
The U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety is also restricting to industry and government officials its mapping software and pipeline data.
Bush administration officials speculate that all of the data could be useful to terrorists.
There is some evidence that terrorists who crashed planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon used the Internet to accomplish their mission, Attorney General John Ashcroft has said.
Ashcroft also told Congress that one person in federal custody had downloaded information about crop-dusting planes, which could be used for biological or chemical attacks.
Some watchdog groups and first amendment attorneys worry the Web site restructuring will separate people needlessly from public information.
“In many ways, it is ridiculous, because this information is public, and the Internet is a public domain,” said Landry Bolville, a first amendment attorney in Washington. “Any piece of information could be used by a terrorist, and it seems like a lot of what is being altered is not directly dangerous. You haven’t made life harder for the terrorist; you’ve just made it harder for taxpaying citizens.”