CUI decoded


At the  National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office, they were celebrating today’s release of a first-ever registry for controlled unclassified information, as the government describes records deemed worthy of some protection but not outright classification as secret, top secret,  etc.

Although a lot of work remains, the new registry “is certainly an important milestone,” John Fitzpatrick, the office’s director, said in a phone interview this morning.

To date, agencies have pretty much been winging it in deciding what should fall under the CUI umbrella and what to call it (Examples include “Sensitive,” Law Enforcement Sensitive,” and “For Official Use Only”).  In 2009, a presidential task force counted 117 different markings and concluded that executive branch performance “suffers immensely from interagency inconsistency” in the CUI arena.

The upshot was an executive order from President Obama that basically told the government to get its act together.  The registry released today won’t change anything immediately; as the web site notes, the status quo remains in effect until a new yet-to-be-decided marking regimen takes effect. But it does break CUI down into 15 subject categories, such as law enforcement, immigration and privacy, followed by 85 subcategories (“privacy-contract use,” privacy-financial,” and so on.)  It also justifies each with a reference to a specific law, regulation or government-wide policy.

“So far, so good I think,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel with The Constitution Project, one of a number of open government advocates that have been providing input to the government. She praised the oversight office for its work in finding a legal basis for each CUI grouping, but voiced concern with guidelines that restrict dissemination of CUI “only to individuals who require the information for an authorized mission purpose.”

“Require” seems a bit strong, Franklin said. “Going forward, I want to make sure that the instructions on dissemination and safeguarding aren’t unduly restrictive and that we’re promoting information-sharing as much as possible.”


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