A Focus on “Sensitive But Unclassified” Information

03.15.06 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The government’s use of the problematic “sensitive but unclassified” (SBU) designation to restrict access to information that does not warrant classification is coming under new scrutiny.

“Federal agencies do not use uniform definitions of SBU information or have consistent policies for safeguarding or releasing it,” a new study from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) observed.

“This lack of uniformity and consistency raises issues about how to identify SBU information, especially scientific and technical information; how to keep it from those who would use it malevolently, while allowing access for those who need to use it; and how to develop uniform nondisclosure policies and penalties.”

The 82-page CRS report presents a comprehensive treatment of this vexing subject. It surveys the origins of government SBU practices; explores “contentious issues” involving SBU; and considers recommendations to improve SBU policy.

CRS does not permit direct public access to its publications, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “‘Sensitive But Unclassified’ Information and Other Controls: Policy and Options for Scientific and Technical Information,” dated February 15, 2006 (published March 14, 2006).

The Government Accountability Office yesterday released a report on SBU policies at the Departments of Energy and Defense to coincide with a House Government Reform Subcommittee hearing. See “Managing Sensitive Information: Departments of Energy and Defense Policies and Oversight Could Be Improved,” Report No. GAO-06-369, March 2006.

The National Security Archive conducted its own survey of SBU policies at federal agencies and released a report entitled “Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government’s Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information.”