Declassification Technology Update from the Center for Content Understanding (CCU)

Yesterday, PIDB member Sanford Ungar attended a briefing by Dr. Cheryl Martin entitled, Decision Support Technology for Records Declassification Review and Release. Dr. Martin’s briefing was jointly sponsored by the ODNI and CIA as part of the research supporting the Congressionally-Directed Action tasked by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to the Director of National Intelligence in Section 321 of the IAA for FY2015: Report on Declassification Process.

Dr. Martin’s briefing expanded on the findings she presented at the PIDB’s June 25, 2015 public meeting concerning declassification technology pilot projects conducted at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin. As part of the President’s Second Open Government National Action Plan, the CIA and NARA teamed with Dr. Martin and the CCU to develop a Sensitive Content Identification and Marking (SCIM) tool to assist the declassification review of over 87,000 emails from the Reagan Administration.

After successfully demonstrating the capabilities of the SCIM tool, the CCU continues supporting the CIA in its efforts to develop and apply the technology to its declassification review processes. Dr. Martin’s briefing brought agency officials together to hear an in-depth description of the piloting efforts and to discuss as a community the potential next steps for developing the SCIM tool and expanding its application at agencies.

The PIDB has a history of making recommendations for improving technological capabilities in support of declassification. The work of the CCU will have significant implications on how agencies grapple with the challenges of performing declassification in an increasingly digital world. The new challenges brought on by the exponential growth of digital information require new solutions routed in technology and automation. Not only will technology support declassification decision making in the future, it likely will replace some components of the declassification process in its entirety. Developing these technologies requires new policies that favor an increase in automation and improved risk management across government. As importantly, agencies requires resources (i.e. funding) devoted to declassification modernization to ensuring the public has access to government information now and in the future.

The PIDB thanks Dr. Martin and the CCU, as well as the ODNI, CIA, NARA, and all the agencies who attended the briefing. The participation of agencies at this briefing and at the meetings of the PIDB’s Declassification Technology Working Group demonstrate the commitment the government shares to improve public access to its information in support of transparency and openness.

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