Obama Announces Revamp of 'Controlled Unclassified' Info Stamp

November 17, 2010

President Obama on Nov. 4, 2010, issued an executive order seeking to regularize federal policy for information that is restricted from disclosure for reasons other than national security.

If you are an environmental reporter asking how many gas pipelines run near nursery schools, how many people a chemical plant endangers, or even whether a liquefied natural gas terminal will harm tidal wetlands — you may currently be out of luck.

Such information is often withheld from press and public with designations such as "sensitive but unclassified" or "critical infrastructure information." There are hundreds of these, and many do not have the force of law.

Besides a sometimes sweeping homeland security justification, agencies keep information secret that involves personal privacy, trade secrets, or pending law enforcement investigations, among others.

The Obama order gives agencies 120 days to review their existing secrecy designations and to come up with standardized ones "in a timely manner." When there is doubt, Obama's order states, agencies are to err on the side of disclosure.

President Bush had ordered agencies on December 16, 2005, to standardize CUI procedures, but the order brought little change.