Classifying data impedes sharing, security director says

The government needs to update its procedures for handling classified information in the digital age, said J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

Outdated methods inhibit the sharing of information by agencies, Leonard said today at the GOVSEC security conference in Washington.

'We take a 60-year-old framework and impose it on our information systems and networks, and we wonder why we can't talk with each other,' he said. 'We need to make the framework more consistent with the electronic environment the government finds itself working in.'

The Information Security Oversight Office was created by executive order in 1995 to oversee the process of declassifying millions of pages of government documents.

The original order was amended this year to reflect changes in our national security posture since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The amendment extended the deadline for reviewing documents for declassification and suspended some requirements for declassifying new information.

The amendment also authorized emergency disclosure of classified information to persons without security clearance. This move was made primarily to address the need for state and local governments and some operations of critical infrastructure 'to protect life and property,' Leonard said.

Leonard said further changes to the declassification process over the next year should focus on the need to share critical information.

'Classification is the ultimate impediment to information sharing,' he said. 'We need to rethink our framework for sharing.'

(Corrected 11:20 a.m. July 28, 2003)

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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