Secrecy News

Confronting Controlled Unclassified Info

The Obama Administration is expected to provide some new insight this week into its emerging policy on “controlled unclassified information” (CUI), referring to unclassified information that is withheld from disclosure for reasons of law or regulation.

Because of the indiscriminate use of such controls, information is often withheld unnecessarily from the public and information sharing within the government is often needlessly obstructed.

In a neat illustration of the undisciplined use of information controls, the Washington Times reported last week that even though some U.S. Capitol Police documents that were marked “law enforcement sensitive” were inadvertently disclosed, this did not pose any threat to public safety.  That’s because the use of the control marking was “a standard practice,” according to Police officials, rather than a reliable indication that the documents were actually sensitive.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police explained that the “law enforcement sensitive” marking “does not necessarily indicate that the information contained there is such.”  See “Capitol Police Papers Found on Street” by Jim McElhatton, Washington Times, December 7, 2009.

Last August 25, an interagency task force transmitted a report to President Obama that presented recommendations for limiting the use of controls on unclassified information.  The White House is expected to release that report this week, though the issuance of a new CUI policy is still likely to be some months away.

Update: The August 25 Report of the Presidential Task Force on Controlled Unclassified Information has now been released.

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