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Declassification

Declassification

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Declassification is the process of documents that formerly were classified
Classified information
Classified information is sensitive information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of persons. A formal security clearance is required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation...

 as secret ceasing to be so restricted, often under the principle of freedom of information
Freedom of information
Freedom of information refers to the protection of the right to freedom of expression with regards to the Internet and information technology . Freedom of information may also concern censorship in an information technology context, i.e...

. Procedures for declassification vary by country. Papers may be withheld without being classified as secret, and eventually made available.

United Kingdom



Classified information has been governed by various Official Secrets Acts, the latest being the Official Secrets Act 1989
Official Secrets Act 1989
The Official Secrets Act 1989 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It repeals and replaces section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. It is said to have removed the public interest defence created by that section....

. Until 1989 requested information was routinely kept secret invoking the public interest defence; this was largely removed by the 1989 Act. The Freedom of Information Act 2000
Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that creates a public "right of access" to information held by public authorities. It is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United Kingdom on a national level...

 largely requires information to be disclosed unless there are good reasons for secrecy.

Confidential government papers such as the yearly cabinet papers used routinely to be withheld formally, although not necessarily classified as secret, for 30 years under the thirty year rule
Thirty year rule
The "thirty year rule" is the popular name given to a law in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and Australia that provides that the yearly cabinet papers of a government will be released publicly thirty years after they were created....

, and released usually on a New Year's Day
New Year's Day
New Year's Day is observed on January 1, the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar used in ancient Rome...

; freedom of information legislation has relaxed this rigid approach.

Automatic declassification


In accordance with Executive Order 13526
Executive Order 13526
Executive Order 13526 was enacted on December 29, 2009 by United States President Barack Obama. It is the latest in a series of executive orders from US Presidents outlining how classified information should be handled...

, published January 5, 2010 (which superseded Executive Order 12958
Executive Order 12958
Executive Order 12958 created new standards for the process of identifying and protecting classified information, and led to an unprecedented effort to declassify millions of pages from the U.S. diplomatic and national security history. In 1995, United States President William J. Clinton signed...

, as amended), an executive agency must declassify its documents after 25 years unless they fall under one of the nine exemptions outline by http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/E9-31418.pdf of the Order. Classified documents 25 years or older must be reviewed by any and all agencies that possess an interest in the sensitive information found in the document.

Systematic declassification


The Order also requires that agencies establish and conduct a program for systematic declassification review. This only applies to records that are of permanent historical value and less than 25 years old. Section 3.4 The Executive Order 13526, clearly specifies that agencies shall prioritize the systematic review of records based upon the degree of researcher interest and the likelihood of declassification upon review. After declassification, the documents from many agencies are accessioned at the National Archives and Records Administration and put on the open shelves for the public.

Mandatory Declassification Review


A Mandatory Declassification Review, or MDR, is requested by an individual in an attempt to declassify a document for release to the public. These challenges are presented to the agency whose equity, or "ownership", is invested in the document. Once an MDR request has been submitted to an agency for the review of a particular document, the agency must respond either with an approval, a denial, or the inability to confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of the requested document. After the initial request, an appeal can be filed with the agency by the requester. If the agency refuses to declassify that document, then a decision from a higher authority can be provided by the appellate panel, the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel
Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel
The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, or "ISCAP", provides the public and users of the classification system with a forum for further review of classification decisions. ISCAP states in order to foster a well-informed public while simultaneously protecting national security...

 (ISCAP).

Freedom of Information Act


The U.S. Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act (United States)
The Freedom of Information Act is a federal freedom of information law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure...

 (FOIA) is the implementation of freedom of information legislation in the United States. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

 on July 4, 1966 (Amended 2002), and went into effect the following year. This act allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the U.S. government. Any member of the public may ask for a classified document to be declassified and made available to him/her for any reason. The requestor is required to specify with reasonable certainty the documents he is interested in. If the agency refuses to declassify, the decision can be taken to the courts for a review. The U.S. Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act (United States)
The Freedom of Information Act is a federal freedom of information law that allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure...

 does not guarantee that such documents will be released. Such documents usually fall under one of the nine of the declassification exemptions that protect highly sensitive information.

History and the National Archives and Records Administration


The National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives...

 (NARA) plays a leading role in the Executive branch’s declassification efforts. The inextricable connection between NARA’s overall mission and declassification of records having permanent historical value is institutionalized in the governing Executive Order 13526
Executive Order 13526
Executive Order 13526 was enacted on December 29, 2009 by United States President Barack Obama. It is the latest in a series of executive orders from US Presidents outlining how classified information should be handled...

, which superseded Executive Order 12958
Executive Order 12958
Executive Order 12958 created new standards for the process of identifying and protecting classified information, and led to an unprecedented effort to declassify millions of pages from the U.S. diplomatic and national security history. In 1995, United States President William J. Clinton signed...

, effective January 5, 2010, in a number of areas. Over the years, NARA has achieved great success with respect to declassification of records having permanent historical value and early on established its leadership role.

NARA first established a formal declassification program for records in 1972, and between 1973 and 1996 reviewed nearly 650 million pages of historically valuable federal records related to World War II, the Korean War, and American foreign policy in the 1950s as part of its systematic declassification review program. From 1996 to 2006, NARA had processed and released close to 460 million pages of federal records, working in partnership with the agencies that originated the records. Over the years, NARA has processed more than 1.1 billion pages of national security classified federal records, resulting in the declassification and release of ninety-one percent of the records.

NARA has also provided significant support to several special projects to review and release federal records on topics of extraordinary public interest such as POW/MIAs or Nazi War Crimes. Additionally, NARA works closely with reference archivists to ensure that the federal records most in demand by researchers receive priority for declassification review and performs review on demand for individuals who need records that do not fall into a priority category. NARA has improved or developed electronic systems to support declassification, automating some processes that used to be done by hand ensuring a more complete record of declassification actions. Finally, with assistance from the Air Force, NARA established the Interagency Referral Center (IRC) in order to support agencies as they seek access their equities in federal records at the National Archives at College Park and to ensure that high demand records are processed first.

Presidential libraries


In addition to the successes with federal records, NARA has achieved noteworthy success with respect to the classified holdings of the Presidential Libraries, which hold in excess of 30 million classified pages, including approximately 8 million pages from the administrations of President Hoover through Carter that are subject to automatic declassification on December 31, 2006. The foreign policy materials in Presidential collections are among the highest-level foreign policy documents in the Federal government and are of significant historical value. Regardless of the challenges posed by the nature of the information and the complexity of equity issues in Presidential materials, the Presidential Libraries have a long tradition of safeguarding these materials while staying on the cutting age of declassification.

From 1995 to 2006, the national Presidential Library
Presidential library
In the United States, the Presidential library system is a nationwide network of 13 libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration...

 system reviewed, declassified, and released 1,603,429 pages of Presidential materials using systematic guidelines delegated to the Archivist of the United States. NARA has also hosted on-site agency review teams at the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Ford Presidential Libraries to manage classified equities and all Presidential Libraries have robust mandatory declassification review programs to support requests of individual researchers.

National Declassification Initiative (NDI)


Through a pilot National Declassification initiative (NDI), NARA seeks to establish a more efficient and effective means for the referral of classified equities between Executive branch entities, particularly with the high concentration of referrals at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. A number of agencies have agreed, in principle, to create the NDI, with the objective of more effectively integrating their work and creating a more reliable Executive-branch declassification program. The National Declassification Initiative seeks to:
  • preclude redundancies in security reviews;
  • promote accurate and consistent declassification decisions;
  • improve equity-recognition;
  • develop centralized priorities and databases; and
  • enhance transparency to the public.


The creation of an NDI would facilitate improvements to the system such that records are reviewed no more than twice prior to becoming subject to automatic declassification provisions:
  • a pre-accession review by record owner (required only if claiming exemption); and

  • a post-accession review by NDI, within a specified period after accessioning, to simultaneously address all referrals and assess the quality of agency reviews.


Moreover, the NDI can minimize the possibility of the inadvertent but unauthorized disclosure of information in declassified and released permanent records at NARA.
Finally, in support of the NDI, NARA can better integrate the life-cycle of records and the life-cycle of classified information in order to influence both sound records management and sound declassification. Several key recommendations in this area include:
  • establishment of specialized training for records managers and security professionals;
  • increased oversight of agency records management activities with respect to the unique nature of classified records;
  • consideration of a dedicated process for the storage and processing of classified permanent records pending declassification and release.

See also

  • Freedom of information
    Freedom of information
    Freedom of information refers to the protection of the right to freedom of expression with regards to the Internet and information technology . Freedom of information may also concern censorship in an information technology context, i.e...

  • Freedom of information legislation
    Freedom of information legislation
    Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions...

  • United States v. Reynolds
    United States v. Reynolds
    United States v. Reynolds, , is a landmark legal case in 1953 that saw the formal recognition of State Secrets Privilege, a judicially recognized extension of presidential power.- Overview :...


External links


United States