Recommendations for reducing government secrecy roll in

An advisory group plans to hold a public meeting July 8 to collect suggestions on how the Obama administration can improve policy around the classification of government data. The group will use those recommendations and those received online to inform an ongoing review of the current policy.

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the advisory group, was asked in June to gather information from the public to assist in the administration’s review of how the government classifies national security information. President Barack Obama ordered the review, to last 90 days, on May 27.

Since June 29 people have giving been submitting recommendations to the PIDB via the Declassification Policy Forum, an online discussion hosted at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology’s Web site. People can post comments until July 19.

The conversation, which is ongoing, so far has focused on declassification policy, the possibility of the creation of a national declassification center and, starting today, classification policy. Officials also plan to invite comments on technology challenges and opportunities associated with classification.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said the success of the process depends on whether tangible steps are actually taken to reduce secrecy.

“The real criterion will be, are there meaningful reductions in secrecy or not,” he said.

Aftergood also said the process represents a challenge for advocates of open government to put forth ideas that can be adopted.

“It’s one thing to complain about secrecy; it’s another to prescribe new ways to fix the problem,” Aftergood said.

The PIDB has posted summaries of recommendations it has received related to declassification policy and the possible creation of a national declassification center.

Three information technology-related recommendations for declassification policy included in a summary posted on the forum are:

  • Design a new executive order for the electronic environment.
  • Create a central public database for declassified documents.
  • Archivists should do any prioritization of records in the final, or access, phase of the declassification process, to identify records for scanning, electronic distribution, or other levels of processing and description.

Meanwhile, recommendations for the national declassification center include:

  • Charter an information technology futures group to evaluate information systems and develop solutions as technologies evolve.
  • Require agencies to transfer their permanently valuable records to the National Archives. Electronic records should be transferred sooner for preservation.

 

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