The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a "Freedom of Information Reform Act" yesterday that would strengthen the government's hand in refusing to disclose records for a variety of reasons.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said the bill would provide "needed protection for confidential informants and investigations, personal privacy, technical data vital to our national security and trade secrets."
The committee also reported out several other bills at a hurried and somewhat jumbled session where most of the votes consisted of intervals of silence being taken for assent. Among the measures approved were:
* A "record rental" act prohibiting rental of phonograph records or sound recordings unless authorized by the holder of the copyright.
* A "kiddie-porn" bill making it a federal crime to depict anyone under 18 as engaging in "sexually explicit conduct."
* An "armed career criminal" act making it a federal crime, punishable by terms of 15 years to life, for anyone to commit or attempt to commit armed robbery or burglary or robbery after two previous convictions for such offenses.
* A "justice assistance act" setting up a new program of grants and contracts to succeed that of the old Law Enforcement Assistance Administration.
* An "intelligence personnel protection act" making it a federal crime to kill or try to kill any officer or employe of a U.S. intelligence agency.
The FOIA measure expands the current law enforcement exemption to allow withholding of records that "could reasonably be expected" to disclose a confidential source or that "could reasonably be expected" to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The current law allows withholding for records that "would" have those effects.
In business records submitted to the government, companies would be allowed to designate data they think should be kept confidential. This would entitle them to be notified of any requests for such records and to contest their release in court if they wish.
The bill also puts a general five-year moratorium on government records concerning organized crime and it prescribes secrecy for technological data that requires a license under export control laws.
Hatch told reporters he hopes to win Senate passage of the FOIA bill sometime this year. House action is less certain.