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Classifying the Unclassified – Blanket Secrecy License?

On May 9, this past Friday, the White House issued a memorandum doing away with the old category of “Sensitive But Unclassified” and replacing it with “Controlled Unclassified Information.”

The memo is titled, “Memorandum For The Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies – SUBJECT: Designation and Sharing of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)”.

Here is how the memo defines CUI (bolding mine):

a. “Controlled Unclassified Information” is a categorical designation that refers to unclassified information that does not meet the standards for National Security Classification under Executive Order 12958, as amended, but is (i) pertinent to the national interests of the United States or to the important interests of entities outside the Federal Government, and (ii) under law or policy requires protection from unauthorized disclosure, special handling safeguards, or prescribed limits on exchange or dissemination. Henceforth, the designation CUI replaces “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU).

This is such a broad brush that it could be used to exempt anything from public disclosure. By definition, isn’t anything the government produces at least somewhat pertinent to the national interests of the United States? Otherwise, why waste taxpayer dollars and government time creating the product?

Then there’s the allowance for “policy.” I’m sure that DoD’s 2002 domestic propaganda program probably “required protection” from “unauthorized disclosure” for “policy” reasons.

This is a definition that appears to be designed to give the executive branch total control over what information is released by the US Government regardless of existing law. It is an order that should be challenged by Congress today with no funding permitted for its implementation. Assuming the President doesn’t back down, it should be one of the first items revoked by the incoming President.

Government information items should be properly classified and protected, safeguarded when containing individuals personal data, or public record. No twilight zone of “It’s unclassified, by I can’t give it to you for reasons of government policy.”

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