Classified documents on the rise

The federal government classified a record 15.6 million documents in 2004, a 10 percent increase from the year before, according to a new report. Meanwhile the number of pages declassified and made available to the public continued to drop.

The report by the non-profit Fund for Constitutional Government, based on information from the National Archives, highlights the sharp increase in secrecy that has taken place since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"In 2004, the federal government set a new record for keeping secrets," states the report, which is available at OpentheGovernment.org.

In 1995, only 3.6 million documents were newly classified. By 2001 that had risen to 8.6 million, and it has grown every year since then.

Meanwhile, the number of pages removed from classification was 100 million in 2001, and has dropped every year since then, to 28 million in 2004.

What's more, when government employees make a document secret in 2004, 66 percent of the time they chose to make it secret for at least 10 years. Typically that percentage is near 50 percent, the report said.

The rise in classifications of documents may be contributing to barriers in information sharing, according to a recent report by Martin Smith, information-sharing director for the CIO's Office of the Department of Homeland Security.

Smith's commentary, "Ten Barriers to Information Sharing," recently published by the National Association of State CIOs, said there is no reliable, inexpensive method to quickly extract "unclassified, actionable information from classified sources." Lack of such a method, as well as "difficulties in determining and understanding what content is classified and unclassified," are hindrances to information-sharing, Smith wrote.

Another of the 10 barriers identified by Smith is the "lack of a method for effectively ensuring distribution restrictions (that) accompany the information or data throughout its lifecycle." This is a problem not just for the original distribution of the data, but for every additional distribution that may be made, Smith said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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