"When you're talking about secure information, asking people to identify themselves — that's probably not unreasonable," Warfield said.
"The risk I see is they start to use this for anything, which they're not entitled to do under the Freedom of Information Act," she said. "Asking someone for an ID whenever they want access to public information should not be allowed.
"I haven't looked at the PSC statutes to see if they have any special exemptions. There is a public meetings exemption for security matters, but not in the Freedom of Information Act.
"You look at this and say 'Is this a rational policy?' I would say yes. But when you get an ID, do you match it against anything? If not, what's the point? We all know driver's licenses can be faked.
"I guess the ACLU will say you're giving people a false sense of security. I think it's comforting to think they're doing something, but it's one more restriction on our freedoms.
"A lot of things the government is doing in the name of national security are not necessary and are excessive. You have to balance the public safety with individual liberties.
"I'm not as troubled by this as by the government looking at your library records. They already eavesdrop on your telephone conversations if you use a wireless or cordless phone. Those are the kind of abuses I'm more concerned about. Holding people incommunicado without charging them with crimes. Whether they're citizens or not, they still have rights."
Terry Wimmer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who teaches at West Virginia University, was even more critical.
"This was a fear of mine, coming out of 9/11, that we will have bureaucrats deciding what is public records," said Wimmer, who has researched freedom of information issues in West Virginia.
"The law is clear," he said. "They [PSC officials] do not have the power to create secret or unwritten policies about what is open or not. A decision made upon a subjective standard of 'suspicious' is disturbing and goes against the basic tenets of an open society.
"It sets up great issues of racial profiling and sets up huge issues of snowballs rolling of whose agenda is being served. If a bureaucrat does not want information being released, they can hide behind the suspicious clause.
"A citizen should not have to hand over identification. It goes against the spirit of open information.
"The fear of 9/11 was that terrorists would win and we would put locks on public information, and it seems like that's what we're doing.
"Obviously I haven't seen this policy. It might be well intentioned. But it seems to go against the state's Freedom of Information law. There are specific exemptions and this doesn't seem to fit any.
"I don't think it has legal legs to stand on. But of course it's going to take someone to take them to court to knock it down. We have to be more vigilant than a year ago. That just proves the terrorists won."
Hitt acknowledged the policy may be on shaky legal ground. "This doesn't fit into any of the existing [FOIA] exemptions. We might be able to stretch it into one. Frankly, I think this is something the Legislature ought to take a look at."
To contact staff writer Jim Balow, use e-mail or call 348-5102.