SBU and the Challenge of Information Sharing

The widespread use of “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) control markings is a major impediment to information sharing inside and outside of the federal government, according to testimony (pdf) last week from Thomas E. McNamara, the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, who reports to the Director of National Intelligence.

“More than 60 different marking types are used across the Federal Government to identify SBU, including various designations within a single department,” he observed.

And even “[when] different agencies … use the same marking to denote information that is to be handled as SBU, a chosen category of information is often defined differently from agency to agency, and agencies may impose different handling requirements. Some of these marking and handling procedures are not only inconsistent, but are contradictory.”

See his prepared testimony from a May 10 hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence.

“There is, quite frankly, much [SBU] that has no legal basis and doesn’t deserve a legal basis,” he told the Subcommittee. “We should be getting that stuff out.”

See “Congress urged to help make more ‘sensitive’ information public” by Chris Strohm, Congress Daily, May 11.

An interagency working group completed an inventory of SBU procedures in March, and is due to develop recommendations for standardizing such procedures by next month.

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