Classified Information


Classified information is information that has been marked as Secret, Top Secret or Confidential. Its national security importance is assessed by the government, which has been overseeing classified information through a series of executive orders since World War II.


Classified information can include things like the process and codes for launching America’s nuclear weapons arsenal, but it also includes much smaller details that are sensitive.

What is Classified Information?

Classified information, also known as classified national security information (CNSI), refers to documents and other mediums of intelligence that the government has deemed sensitive and potentially dangerous to the nation’s security. This material must be protected against unauthorized disclosure by law or regulation, and is restricted by security clearance to particular groups of people with a need to know, as determined by agency heads or other officials delegated original classification authority by the president. Individuals who receive classified material must sign non-disclosure agreements and undergo a rigorous background check before being granted access to such materials.

Generally, the higher the level of classified material, the more damaging it would be to the country’s security if released unauthorizedly. The most highly classified information is Top Secret, followed by Secret and then Confidential. Information may be further compartmented with additional restrictions, such as No Foreign dissemination (NoForn) or Originator controlled dissemination (OrCon).

If you have a collection of classified records, be sure to store them in a secure area and limit access to them to as few people as possible. These records should never be sent via street-side mailboxes, but must be sent via an authorized government courier service. ISOO can make these arrangements on your institution’s behalf. Please consult ISOO staff for more detailed instructions regarding the shipment of classified material to and from your institution.

Why is Information Classified?

In general, information becomes classified when a government body determines it has the potential to damage national security. There are a number of reasons why a piece of information might receive such a designation, including:

While each agency is responsible for the details of how it classifies its material 서울흥신소 and how to manage that classification, most follow similar practices. These include a cover sheet that fronts a classified document, and markings that appear on top of each page to indicate its status. Additionally, access is restricted to those who have a clearance for that level of information. For the most sensitive documents, such as those about human intelligence sources, a clearance is required to even read such information.

However, it is possible for a document to remain classified in spite of the best efforts to keep it secure. For example, a government agency might discover that one of its employees was bringing classified material home. In such cases, the information can be reclassified to higher levels.

In such instances, a person may be prosecuted for mishandling classified materials. However, prosecutors do not have to prove that the information was marked as classified in order to win a conviction. This is a result of the fact that most classifications are not tied to criminal penalties. The only exception is for certain offenses related to the theft of classified material, such as when it involves a senior decision-maker like a cabinet secretary or an agency director.

How is Information Classified?

As the probes into classified materials that accompanied former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden when they left office have drawn attention to how sensitive information is handled by the government, it’s worth explaining how classification, a bureaucratic process, works. Classified material is only made available to officials who have security clearance and a need to know. Documents or electronic files containing classified information are typically marked, and rules dictate how they should be stored, physically transported or electronically transmitted. Mishandling classified documents or information can carry significant penalties.

When deciding to make information classified, officials consider the degree of harm that could occur if it were disclosed, and how easy or hard it would be for an adversary to acquire the information and use it to our disadvantage. Then they assign a level of classification to the information: confidential, secret or top secret.

Eventually, classified documents get declassified, although the process can take years. The original classifying authority usually sets a date for automatic declassification, or a specific time period (often 25 years) after which the document is automatically eligible to be released. Even then, some documents can be classified for longer periods, particularly if they contain information that is so sensitive that it will only survive the test of time. Some of this information can also remain classified if it was received from foreign governments with a promise that the government will not disclose it.

What is Unclassified Information?

Unclassified information is not protected against unauthorized disclosure in the same way as classified national security information. Archivists processing papers containing unclassified information will find markings like “For Official Use Only,” “Sensitive but Unclassified” and “Limited Official Use.” These designations indicate that the government considers the information important for official use, but does not necessarily have concerns that it could damage national security by release.

Other government classification levels include Codeword Information, which includes intercepts of encoded enemy radio signals; and CIA Intelligence Disclosure Controls, which is used to protect the identity of intelligence sources. There are also compartmented constraints on access to unclassified information, including no foreign dissemination (NoForn), originator controlled dissemination (OrCon) and non-government possession (NonGps).

In addition to these eight categories, there is a general category for data that requires protection but does not meet the level of classified information. This is known as Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI). DoD contractors need to be able to identify and label their data with CUI in order to maintain good standing within the defense industrial base.

CUI is governed by the Information Security Oversight Office of NARA and is being implemented across the Federal government under Executive Order 13556, with the goal of creating a streamlined method for protecting and sharing information. It replaces agency specific classification labels such as For Official Use Only, Sensitive But Unclassified and Law Enforcement Sensitive.