Reducing Controls on Unclassified Information

06.17.08 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

To reduce unnecessary restrictions on unclassified information, Congress should require agencies to publish more of their unclassified records, we suggested in a letter (pdf) to the House Intelligence Committee this week.

A White House policy announced last month to establish a government-wide standard for “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) may exacerbate existing barriers to public access, even sweeping up embargoed press releases into a formal control category.

Instead of facilitating broad information sharing, as intended, CUI could end up as the equivalent of a fourth level of classification that tends to prohibit public access to information that has not been specifically approved for release.

One way to avoid that outcome is to increase the routine disclosure of unclassified records of public interest.

“In parallel with the CUI process, Congress should mandate affirmative new disclosure requirements that will directly counteract the tendency to control information unnecessarily,” I wrote in a letter to Rep. Anna Eshoo of the House Intelligence Committee.

“Specifically, for example, I would urge legislation requiring the DNI Open Source Center to publish all or most of its unclassified analytical products.”

Rep. Eshoo had invited comments on the new CUI policy. Our June 16 reply is here.

A hearing was held last week on a bill introduced by Rep. Jane Harman to require the Department of Homeland Security by statute to adopt the new CUI policy. Witnesses included Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive, Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org and Caroline Fredrickson of the ACLU. Their prepared statements are available here.