Groups want more input in classification debate

Advocates want to comment on security adviser's recommendations on government data classification

Advocates for open government commended the Obama administration’s initial efforts to engage the public during its review of the government’s data classification policies, but they are now urging the administration to seek comment again before making any final rule changes.

In May, President Barack Obama ordered his national security adviser to review how the government classifies national security information, as his administration considers ways to decrease government secrecy. As part of the review, the public submitted comments online about classification and declassification policies between June 29 and July 19.

A group of advocates for open government recently sent a letter to Retired Gen. James Jones, the national security adviser, applauding the administration’s steps to engage the public on the classification review. However, the advocates said in the letter, dated August 1, that Jones should open his recommendations to public comment before submitting a final set to Obama.

The letter said that “such early input is no substitute for an opportunity to comment on the exact revision language.”

“Soliciting input on the front end of the review process is commendable,” the letter continued. “However, the opportunity to comment on how that input is translated into policy is the true measure of transparency, participation and collaboration promised by the president on January 21, 2009.”

The group said they want the public to have a chance, through publication the Federal Register or similar means, to comment on the actual language of recommendations for revising the executive order that governs classification policy. They want the public to have that opportunity before they’re sent by Jones to Obama for his consideration, the letter said.

Obama’s memo released May 27 directed his assistant for national security affairs to review within 90 days the rules for classifying, declassifying and maintaining national security information. Obama requested recommendations and proposals for revising those rules to deal with the following:

  • The appropriate classification, safeguarding, accessibility and declassification of information in an electronic environment.
  • Establishing a national center for collaborative declassification review.
  • Effective ways to address over-classification.
  • The changes needed to improve the sharing of classified information.
  • The restrictions on the reclassification of material that has already been declassified.
  • Other measures that could improve transparency while maintaining the security of the classification and declassification program.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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