The Unintended Audience: Balancing Openness and Secrecy
By: Jacques Gansler, William Lucyshyn
As the nation continues to combat global terrorism, the government is forced to reevaluate the balance between openness and secrecy when controlling unclassified, but sensitive, information. Certain information originating in the public, private, and academic/scientific spheres exists outside the scope of security classification even though it poses threats to the national security more broadly conceived. It is in this ill-defined area that some forms of controls are most needed, yet most controversial. The government’s still-unstated policy objective can be understood as moving from this broad desire to comprehensively limit access to sensitive, unclassified information, to the more focused goal of ensuring security by restricting access to unclassified information that could be used by an adversary, adversarial group, or nation to develop or employ weapons of mass destruction or pose a manifest threat to public safety.
Yet this whole process must be undertaken with extreme caution. The great value of openness of knowledge is a recognized, accepted, and critical part of a free and democratic society—and it is clearly of great societal and economic benefit. Therefore, the restrictions applied must be extremely limited and—even in the case of doubt—must be biased in favor of openness.
The difficulties of defining and implementing a comprehensive policy to govern truly sensitive information are reflected in the many and varied information security policies that have evolved. Having numerous competing policies from Congress and executive department and agency sources makes the task of discerning what is—and how to handle—”sensitive information” particularly difficult, especially because the policies themselves often are confused. It is not surprising that there has been a mixed tradition of expanding and relaxing controls on unclassified, sensitive information in reaction to changing perceptions of threats.