Oct 01 2009

Do you need government ID to observe Federal government meetings?

With the public paying more attention ot Federal financial policy, more people might be interested in watching government meetings like those of the Federal Reserve Board.

But what if you don’t have  government-issued identity credentials, or don’t chose to show them? Are you still entitles to observe your tax dollars at work?

We recently came across this 2002 opinion from Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, advising the the Federal Reserve Board that notwithstanding the open meeting requirements of the Government in the Sunshine Act, the Fed can prevent people from watching its meetings if they don’t give advance notice of their intent to attend, don’t have or won’t reveal their Social Security Number or various other information, or if they don’t have or won’t show a photo ID.

Footnote 4 of the 2002 opinion points out a 1977 DoJ letter that states, “[o]f course, any person may attend a meeting without indicating his identity and/or the person, if any, whom he represents and no requirement of prior notification of intent to observe a meeting may be required.” However, the OLC “disagrees with” that letter.

This took place, ,of course, at a time when the OLC was also advising Federal agencies on the legality of torture, “extraordinary rendition”, and so forth.  But we can find no record of any action by the Obama Administration to rescind or update this advice.

All of which begs the Catch-22 question of what happens to people who want to enter government buildings where ID is required for entry — such as passport offices located in Federal office buildings — in order to apply for the ID credentials they don’t yet have.

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