Bill aims to prevent over-classification

The House has passed a bill designed to prevent the over-classification of security information by the Homeland Security Department. The measure also has some technology requirements.

Observers are concerned that unnecessary classifying of information in categories that restrict its sharing makes it difficult for DHS to share security information with state and local authorities. To improve data sharing, the bill would require that each finished classified intelligence product done by DHS also have an unclassified version that could be easily shared with state and local authorities who do not have clearances if it would be useful to those groups.

DHS would also have to take a look at technologies and standards that would allow the department to track classification decisions made by employees and contractors.

Employees and contractors with classifying authority would also have to complete training and renew their authority annually. The bill would also start a program that would detail DHS employee to the National Archives and Records Administration to educate DHS employees and improve bolster NARA’s oversight.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said DHS is not the worst among government agencies in terms of over-classifying information; however, he added that DHS has unique information-sharing responsibilities.

“The homeland security intelligence that [DHS] deals in is pertinent to state and local officials in a way that military or foreign intelligence is not,” he said. “So that gives special impetus to this proposal.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) who heads the
Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee, was approved by the House Feb. 3. The House passed an identical bill in July and no similar legislation is under consideration by in the Senate.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Fri, Feb 6, 2009

Over-classification is endemic government-wide. 'We've always done it that way' and 'nobody ever got fired for being too careful' rules the day. Some projects are moved to controlled channels just to justify FTEs and hardware. Everyone knows it is a farce, and thus few take it seriously enough for the things that SHOULD be classified.

Fri, Feb 6, 2009

Employees have a tendency to add classifications in fear rather than understanding. I feel that requiring an unclassified version will be difficult in many situations where the classification was added as a general fear as compared to specific information. As an example, a drawing that shows positions of non security rated mission capture cameras is classified SBU. Is the very existence of the cameras or their location SBU? Security even marked the camera bracket SBU. Maybe this will cause security to be more selective. Maybe it will just double the number of documents. I think that it is possible some documents by their very existence are sensitive. Perhaps the receiving agency just needs to be required to receive the same training.

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