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Classification must be revamped under presidential leadership, says PIDB

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The current security classification system must be simplified and modernized under presidential leadership to meet security and public demands, says the Public Interest Declassification Board.

In a report (.pdf) to the president, dated Nov. 27 put not published until Dec. 6, PIDB provides recommendations it says are essential to the development of a security classification system that can balance what should be classified or available to the public while maintaining security.

"We believe it will require a White House-led steering committee to drive reform," says board chair Nancy Soderberg, saying that a presidential mandate will be needed to make agencies work together on reforms.

Efforts to simplify the system and adopt new technology are the core recommendations because they can streamline the classification and declassification process.

PIDB recommends the classification structure be simplified into two categories: "Top Secret" would remain at the top and retain its current protections, while a "Lower-Level" tier would replace all other existing classifications and apply a uniform standard of lower-level protection.

Information would be placed in these categories based on the level of harm anticipated in the event of an unauthorized release of the information, but the report says this can be structured in a way that the new system will adhere to existing declassification standards and procedures.

The report's recommendations favor a steadier flow of declassified documents. It says operational or date-specific classified information should be automatically declassified without any additional review when the operation or date passes.

The report also says the Formerly Restricted Data classification should be revisited since much of the information under this designation dates from the end of World War II through the height of the Cold War. Automating the declassification of this type of data, as well as other historically significant records, would speed up its access to researchers and develop some good will in public relations.

PIDB also suggests that agencies share declassification practices, tools and efforts to ease costs and manpower burdens. This sharing should be led under the National Declassification Center, which the president should provide with more authority and capacity, says the report.

On their own agencies will not take steps to alter the classification process and ease citizen access to data, says the report, so a presidentially-led steering committee is a requirement of all other recommendations.

This is the first published PIDB report since a Jan. 2, 2008 report (.pdf) also on improving the declassification system.

For more:
- download the "Transforming the Security Classification System" report (.pdf)

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