Administration to get recommendations on reducing over-classification

Online forum on reducing secrecy is scheduled to wrap up July 19

An advisory group is set to develop recommendations on how the government can address the overclassification of data and will present those recommendations to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has been collecting recommendations from the public since June 29 via the Declassification Policy Forum, an online discussion hosted by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The forum is scheduled to continue until July 19.

The Obama administration asked the board in June to gather information to assist in its review of how the government classifies national security information. In the three weeks since the forum began, the board has collected recommendations on policies for classification and declassification, the possible creation of a national declassification center, and relevant technology challenges and opportunities.

After submitting suggestions online and during a public meeting July 8 at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, advocates of open government are waiting to see if their recommendations will lead to changes in the presidential order that establishes the policy for classifying national security data.

The current order gives authorities too much latitude for classification decisions and provides insufficient oversight of those decisions, said Michael German, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, during the July 8 meeting.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said in a recent interview that the success of the public recommendation process depends on whether tangible steps are taken to reduce secrecy. The process represents a challenge for advocates of open government to put forth ideas that can be adopted, he added.

In an entry on the OSTP blog, the PIDB support staff wrote that the topic of technology was the forum’s most ambitious. Some of the public’s recommendations are:

  • Establish a social-networking site for people who work on declassifying documents to ease the referral process.
  • Create a national declassification center for electronic records. That center and NARA should encourage the transfer of electronic records from agencies.
  • Make electronic records management a priority.
  • Base the evaluation of electronic records on their content rather than the format in which they were created or stored.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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