EPA Web Site Shut Down Draws Criticism

The Working Group on Community Right-to-Know said EPA's recent shut down of its Web site is a denial of service attack by an anti-environmental congressman.

Last week, EPA temporarily shut down its Internet connection to its computer systems in order to protect sensitive and confidential information on those systems.

The shut down resulted from concern over a 15-page report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) that said its investigators found EPA's computer system "riddled with security weaknesses" to a point that the agency cannot assure protection of its most sensitive information.

Responding to the recent shut down, Paul Orum, with the Working Group on Community Right-to-Know, said the site is EPA's best new initiative for making public valuable information on toxic chemical pollution and other environmental issues.

Orum believes EPA's recent action is "a brilliant denial of service attack by an anti-environmental congressman."

"Virginia Congressman Tom Bliley, R-Va., has long opposed right-to-know laws that expose polluting industries to public scrutiny," said Orum. "Bliley is a leading recipient of campaign contributions from the chemical industry."

Bliley was the congressman who made public the GAO report on the vulnerability of EPA's site. He also called on EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner to shut down the Internet connection because EPA computers made the agency a target for hackers.

In defense of his actions, Bliley turned the blame toward Browner.

"It is unfortunate that the American people temporarily will not have access to the important public information contained on EPA's Web site," said Bliley. "That sad fact is the fault of no one other than EPA Administrator Carol Browner and her management team."

Bliley contends that if warning by security experts were headed by EPA, Wednesday night's shut down would not have been necessary.

Orum stands firm on his position that obstructionism is not the solution and as long as the site is down, the public is at a loss.

"Government, including Bliley and EPA, has a responsibility to provide public information to the public," said Orum. "Instead of denying public access to public information, EPA should keep confidential and personally identifiable data out of public databases, and take the same precautions that all other large institutions take to protect Web sites."

Orum also pointed out that it is difficult to substantiate Bliley's claim of the vulnerability of EPA's Web site, since the congressman has not released any documentation.

"EPA maintains that no confidential information has been disclosed," said Orum.

The GAO report said EPA's own records, "show several serious computer security incidents" in 1998 and 1999 "that have resulted in damage and disruption of agency operations."

EPA spokesman David Cohen said the agency for some time has been aware of the GAO's findings and has worked with investigators to improve security.

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