AALL and Others Urge Public Comment on Guidance for Sensitive But Unclassified Information

Last week, AALL signed onto a letter to the White House asking for a public review of proposed new rules governing the designation of Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) information.

Sensitive But Unclassified information, sometimes referred to as “Pseudo-Classified Information” or Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), describes unclassified information that is governed by a varying set of restrictions that allow government officials to keep the information out of the public’s reach. As OpenTheGovernment.org‘s Secrecy Report Card 2007 states, “These designations fall entirely outside the national security classification system, governed by executive order, and are subject to none of its constraints or timelines.” In a 2006 report, the Government Accountability Office identified 56 SBU designations. As the Secrecy Report Card 2007 discusses, there are likely many more of these designations, most of which are not governed by any government-wide policy or procedures.

Opportunities for public comment on proposals dealing with SBU information and information sharing have been promised for several years. In 2003, AALL signed onto a letter urging then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to allow public comment on procedures that were being developed that might have restricted the public dissemination of “homeland security information,” including information that is “sensitive but unclassified.” When the process for developing new rules governing SBU information was moved to the Office of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, interested groups were assured several times that there would be opportunity for public comment.

The SBU designation often acts as an unrestricted barrier to the disclosure of unclassified information. Without clear guidance, the number of SBU designations has skyrocketed. It is important that the plan for guidance of SBU designations be available for public comment so that experts and stakeholders, including state and local government representatives, can have an opportunity to review the plan before it is finalized. AALL joined 33 other groups on this letter to White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolton, which was organized by OpenTheGovernment.org.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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