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U.S. to Declassify Secrets at Age 25

I’m travelling for a few weeks so haven’t been in touch much. However, I got a chance today to glance at the NYT and was greeted with this very favorable item by Scott Shane (NY Times 12/21/06). An executive order passed by the Clinton administration calls for documents to be automatically declassified after 25 years. The law reversed the traditional practice of releasing just what scholars requested via FOIA requests. “Several hundred million pages will be declassified at midnight on Dec. 31, including 270 million pages at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has lagged behind most agencies in reviews.”

This is really great news for historians and advocates of open government. I hope someone from the CA Digital Library’s Web at risk project — or others who are harvesting web sites and documents — is reading this and will set their harvesting tools to scoop this boon up!

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret documents will be instantly declassified, including many F.B.I. cold war files on investigations of people suspected of being Communist sympathizers. After years of extensions sought by federal agencies behaving like college students facing a term paper, the end of 2006 means the government’s first automatic declassification of records.

Secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified status without so much as the stroke of a pen, unless agencies have sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret.

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