Classified information facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
NSALibertyReport.p13
A typical classified document. Page 13 of a U.S. National Security Agency report on the USS Liberty incident, partially declassified and released to the public in July 2004. The original overall classification of the page, "top secret", and the Special Intelligence code word "umbra", are shown at top and bottom. The classification of individual paragraphs and reference titles is shown in parentheses—there are six different levels on this page alone. Notations with leader lines at top and bottom cite statutory authority for not declassifying certain sections.

Classified information is material that a government body claims is sensitive information that requires protection of confidentiality, integrity, or availability. Access is restricted by law or regulation to particular groups of people, and mishandling can incur criminal penalties.

A formal security clearance is often required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process usually requires a satisfactory background investigation. Some corporations and non-government organizations also assign sensitive information to multiple levels of protection to protect trade secrets.

With the passage of time much classified information becomes much less sensitive, and may be declassified and made public. Since the late twentieth century there has been freedom of information legislation in some countries.

Government classification

The purpose of classification is to protect information. Higher classifications protect information that might endanger national security. Classification formalises what constitutes a "state secret" and accords different levels of protection based on the expected damage the information might cause in the wrong hands.

However, classified information is frequently "leaked" to reporters by officials for political purposes. Several U.S. presidents have leaked sensitive information to get their point across to the public.

Typical classification levels

Although the classification systems vary from country to country, most have levels corresponding to the following British definitions (from the highest level to lowest).

Top Secret (TS)

KGB traitors list seen in Museum of Genocide Victims Vilnius
KGB traitors list seen in Museum of Genocide Victims Vilnius: originally marked top secret

Top Secret is the highest level of classified information. Information is further compartmentalized so that specific access using a code word after top secret is a legal way to hide collective and important information. Such material would cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security if made publicly available.

Secret

Secret material would cause "serious damage" to national security if it were publicly available.

Confidential

Confidential material would cause damage or be prejudicial to national security if publicly available.

Restricted

Restricted material would cause "undesirable effects" if publicly available.

Unclassified

Unclassified is technically not a classification level, but this is a feature of some classification schemes, used for government documents that do not merit a particular classification or which have been declassified. This is because the information is low-impact, and therefore does not require any special protection.

Clearance

Clearance is a general classification, that comprises a variety of rules controlling the level of permission required to view some classified information, and how it must be stored, transmitted, and destroyed. Additionally, access is restricted on a "need to know" basis. Simply possessing a clearance does not automatically authorize the individual to view all material classified at that level or below that level. The individual must present a legitimate "need to know" in addition to the proper level of clearance.

International

When a government agency or group shares information between an agency or group of other country’s government they will generally employ a special classification scheme that both parties have previously agreed to honour.

Protected information

Protected information is not classified. Protected information pertains to any sensitive information that does not relate to national security and cannot be disclosed under the access and privacy legislation because of the possible injury to particular public or private interests.

  • Protected C (Extremely Sensitive protected information): is used to protect extremely sensitive information, which if compromised, could reasonably be expected to cause extremely grave injury outside the national interest. Examples could include bankruptcy, identities of informants in criminal investigations, etc.
  • Protected B (Particularly Sensitive protected information): is used to protect information that could cause severe injury or damage to the people or group involved if it was released. Examples include medical records, annual personnel performance reviews, income tax returns, etc.
  • Protected A (Low-Sensitive protected information): is applied to low sensitivity information that should not be disclosed to the public without authorization and could reasonably be expected to cause injury or embarrassment outside the national interest. Example of Protected A information could include employee number, pay deposit banking information, etc.

Corporate classification

Private corporations often require written confidentiality agreements and conduct background checks on candidates for sensitive positions. In the U.S. the Employee Polygraph Protection Act prohibits private employers from requiring lie detector tests, but there are a few exceptions. Policies dictating methods for marking and safeguarding company-sensitive information (e.g. "IBM Confidential") are common and some companies have more than one level. Such information is protected under trade secret laws.

Traffic Light Protocol

The Traffic Light Protocol was developed by the Group of Eight countries to enable the sharing of sensitive information between government agencies and corporations. This protocol has now been accepted as a model for trusted information exchange by over 30 other countries.

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Classified information Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.