The security classification regime in use within the federal
executive branch traces its origins to armed forces information
protection practices of the World War I era. The classification
system -- designating information, according to prescribed criteria
and procedures, protected in accordance with one of three levels of
sensitivity, based on the amount of harm to the national security
that would result from its disclosure -- attained a presidential
character in 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the
initial executive order prescribing these information security
arrangements. Refinements in the creation, management, and
declassification of national security information followed over the
succeeding decades, and continue today. In many regards, these
developments represent attempts to narrow the bases and discretion
for assigning official secrecy to executive branch documents and
materials. Limiting the quantity of security classified information
has been thought to be desirable for a variety of important
reasons: (1) promoting an informed citizenry, (2) effectuating
accountability for government policies and practices, (3) realising
oversight of government operations, and (4) achieving efficiency
and economy in government management. Because security
classification, however, was not possible for some kinds of
information deemed in some quarters to be "sensitive", other kinds
of designations or markings came to be applied to alert federal
employees regarding its privileged or potentially harmful
character. Sometimes these markings derived from statutory
provisions requiring the protection of a type of information;
others were administratively authorised with little detail about
their use. In the current environment, still affected by the long
shadow of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, several
issues have arisen regarding security classified and controlled
information. Volume is a concern: 8 million new classification
actions in 2001 jumped to 14 million new actions in 2005, while the
quantity of declassified pages dropped from 100 million in 2001 to
29 million in 2005. Expense is vexing: $4.5 billion spent on
classification in 2001 increased to $7.1 billion in 2004, while
declassification costs fell from $232 million in 2001 to $48.3
million in 2004, according to annual reports by the Information
Security Oversight Office (ISOO) of the National Archives and
Records Administration (NARA). Some agencies were recently
discovered to be withdrawing archived records from public access
and reclassifying them. Critically evaluating this activity, ISOO
has indicated that the federal government needs to apply a more
integrated approach among the classifying agencies. The force of,
and authority for, information control markings, other than
security classification labels, have come under congressional
scrutiny, prompting concerns about their number, variety, lack of
underlying managerial regimes, and effects. Among those effects,
contend the Government Accountability Office and the manager of the
Information Sharing Environment for the intelligence community, is
the obstruction of information sharing across the federal
government and with state and local governments.
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