CUI Executive Order Clears up Confusion over Unclassified Labels

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President Barack Obama issued an executive order Nov. 4 to establish clearer guidelines for “controlled unclassified information,” or information that is deemed sensitive but doesn’t rise to the level of classified.

CUI information, while officially unclassified, still requires safeguarding from disclosure because it involves personal, proprietary or law enforcement information.

The executive order will replace markings such as “For Official Use Only” or “Sensitive, but Unclassified,” which lacked clear definitions and often led to abuse of the labels, Fierce Government IT reports.

The executive order called the previous system an “inefficient, confusing patchwork” of inconsistent markings.

It turns out too many documents were being stamped with the “For Official Use Only” label because there were no uniform standards for what exactly the phrase meant. This had been a federal issue for many years, according to Fierce Government IT.

Steven Aftergood, who heads up the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, said the executive order is significant, in part, because it doesn’t lay the groundwork for increased secrecy.

“Significantly, the executive order on CUI does not create any new authority to withhold information from disclosure,” Aftergood wrote. “It limits the use of the CUI marking to information that is already protected by statute, by regulation or by government-wide policy.”

Agencies also must gain approval before stamping any information with the CUI label.

Aftergood said he sees the new policy as beneficial for both the government and the public, writing it “seems well-crafted to streamline information handling in the executive branch without creating any new obstacles to public access.

Former President George W. Bush created the CUI category for national security information in an executive order in 2005, and under Obama’s order, the definition will no longer be limited to national security information.

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