Brennan Center Urges White House to Rein in Overclassification

April 23, 2013

New York, NY - Today, the Brennan Center for Justice sent a letter to President Obama, co-signed by 30 additional organizations, urging him to establish a steering committee to help rein in the government’s systemic overclassification of information.

Classification activity has risen dramatically in recent years, with more than 92 million decisions to classify information in fiscal year 2011 alone. Experts agree that much of this information could safely be released. This overclassification creates unnecessary barriers to public debate over counterterrorism policy, intelligence policy, and foreign affairs.

“Transformation of the classification system has become a democratic and security imperative, and the critical moment in this effort has now come,” the letter notes. “We believe that a Steering Committee can be the key to the success of classification reform if it is properly constituted and given a clear mandate to reduce the size and scope of the national security classification system.”

A presidentially-appointed steering committee, comprised of high-level officials across the full range of national security agencies, would provide a mechanism for identifying and coordinating needed changes and for overcoming internal agency obstacles to change.  It would also reflect the urgency of reining in a classification system that is largely unchecked.

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) ––the president’s advisory committee on classification policy –– recommended the creation of a steering committee last November. The 31 organizations that signed today’s letter also urged the White House to “take ownership of the reform effort going forward” and follow the PIDB’s recommendation to appoint senior agency officials who will ensure transparency and public access to government information.

Read the Brennan Center report on overclassification here. Read this op-ed in the New York Times by Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program and J. William Leonard, former chief information security officer under President George W. Bush.

For more information, or to set up an interview, please contact Seth Hoy at seth.hoy@nyu.edu or 646-292-8369.

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