Saturday, August 29, 2015

SSI Program Information and Accessibility

Part of the work that I do to keep up to date on programs that I write about here on this blog is to periodically check a number of web sites to see what changes have been made. One of the web sites that I check every Saturday is the web site for the TSA’s Sensitive Security Information (SSI) program. I’m not providing the link (okay I will) to that site since it no longer exists and hasn’t for three weeks now.

It was an information packed site. It provided links to program documents, explanations of terms, training requirements; all sorts of good information that anyone dealing with SSI would like to have handy to make sure that they were compliant with the regulations.

The first weekend that it was down (and I’m not talking about a standard 404 error message, but a nice pretty TSA ‘Page Not Found’ message) I wrote it off as one of those glitches that periodically happens on the internet. The second week I fired off a request to TSA asking about what was going on with their SSI web site. This week I got a very nice email from the SSI folks. It explained that:

“TSA recently deployed a new website which could only contain 508-compliant material. The SSI Program is currently working with Public Affairs to convert our programmatic content so that it is 508-compliant and may be loaded to the site.”

For those of you who do not readily understand government speak the term ‘508-compliant material’ refers to the requirements of §508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 USC 794d) as amended in 1992 by §509 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (PL 102-569). In short the Federal government is required to provide equal access to information to people with disabilities. In this particular instance I would presume that that means people who cannot see the information on the web pages.

Now TSA information on the internet is hard enough to access for people with perfect vision, I can only imagine how hard it would be to find anything TSA related if I were visually impaired. So I whole heartedly endorse anything that makes access to this information easier for anyone, particularly those with physical disabilities.

What I find hard to understand, however, is how TSA could have deployed a new disability friendly web site without ensuring that all of the content was §508 compliant first. That does not make any sense to me.

Because of that inexcusable oversight we have gone at least three weeks now without information being available on this critical security program. The average small to medium business does not have professionals on staff that are fully up to speed on each and every Federal security program and it is sites like this currently missing site that made it possible for such enterprises to have some hope of complying with Federal mandates.

The SSI program is especially important when it comes to companies sharing security information with the Federal government. It is only possible for companies to protect security information that they share from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act if they properly request that the information be considered SSI. If an organization does not properly request SSI information protection of data shared with the government then it is not protected.

Without this site being available, the average small to medium company is not going to have a reasonable way of knowing how to protect their transportation security related information from public disclosure when it is shared with a Federal government agency.

There is currently no information available on how long it is going to take the TSA to convert their SSI program information to a §508 compliant format. In the meantime, the friendly email I received did provide an email point ( of contact for anyone needing information on SSI program needs. Of course, that isn’t a very large office and too many information requests will prevent them from doing their other SSI related work. It sure would be nicer if the web site had not been taken down.

1 comment:

SemiInformedObserver said...

Thanks for this info on TSA's SSI web pages. Did anyone explain how *removing* information, 508-compliant or otherwise, is going to *help* people who 508 is supposed to benefit? Surely the vision-impaired users can get more info (presumably by using an intermediary, which is an admittedly non-ideal condition) from an available 508 NON-compliant web page than from all the 508-compliant pages in the world!

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