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Byline: Jeffrey McCracken
DETROIT _ The federal agency that oversees auto safety has decided _ based largely on arguments from automakers and their Washington, D.C., lobbyists _ that reams of data relating to unsafe automobiles or defective parts will not be available to the public.
Specifically, the government has banned the release of car and truck warranty-claims information, customer complaints and early-warning reports about defects from dealers, automakers and rental-car companies, even if media outlets or other groups push for it under the Freedom of Information Act.
The rule, finalized earlier this year, is a two-paragraph decision buried deep within the Federal Register, which runs hundreds of pages each day. Few, outside automakers, their lobbyists and some public-interest groups are even aware of it.
But awareness is growing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration decision was cited Saturday in a front-page New York Times story as an example of regulatory actions by the Bush Administration to aid business or industry.
One consumer-advocacy group …