PIDB Posts Transcript of Virtual Public Meeting, Responds to Public Questions

The agenda and transcript of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) Virtual Public Meeting held on June 5, 2020, is now available online here: PIDB Meetings – 2020.  The teleconference began an important discussion about the PIDB’s 2020 Report to the President, A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System. To continue this discussion, and other topics of interest, the PIDB encourages you to post comments below, or by email to: PIDB@nara.gov.

During the virtual meeting, PIDB members addressed several questions from the public. However, time did not allow responses to all questions received.  The following are the remaining questions that were not answered during the meeting:

  1. In advocating for a two-tier system (getting rid of confidential) to better align with how systems work, does the Board also advocate getting rid of SCI or SAP?

No, the Board does not advocate eliminating SCI or SAP when changing to a two-tiered classification system.  Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and special access programs (SAPs) are types of controlled access programs and not a classification level.  Information at any classification level may exist within an SCI control system or contain SAP information.

  1. Why does the PIDB prefer a “cherry picked” topic-based approach to declassification as opposed to respecting records provenance and advocating for the prioritization for the review and declassification of specific “high interest” records series?

The Board sees the need to balance the declassification of “high interest” records series with topic-based prioritization which aims to target the records and information most sought-after by the public.  The Board also recognizes that while declassification of series of records is necessary for some classified textual records, declassification processes require modernization. The Board recognizes that traditional archival principles and practices for textual records no longer work in the electronic environment where metadata standards, Cloud storage, and access permissions/security are critical. Declassification processes must also modernize – moving from a textual-based analog system to one capable of dealing with large volumes of born digital classified records.

  1. Is there any consideration given to enabling researcher submission of electronic MDR appeals directly to NARA on electronic media (USB drive, etc.)?

The Board sees no objection to a researcher being able to submit an MDR request or appeal electronically.  NARA and the ISCAP accepts MDR requests or appeals electronically via email. There are likely security issues for accepting requests via a USB drive.

  1. Will the Public be able to learn what records are undergoing declassification reviews and the results?  Will there be changes in how the public accesses the declassified records?  The primary means of access are through the websites of agencies and presidential libraries or visiting the College Park National Archives or the presidential libraries.  Will these websites be greatly expanded?  With respect to College Park, massive numbers of permanent, classified records 25 years old and older are not even there although the retention periods have long expired.  For example, it holds very few records of the CIA, NSA, DIA, JCS, and FBI – a limited number are at the Washington National Records Center but the vast majority are at the agencies themselves.  Who will review these and how will the public access the declassified records?

The National Declassification Center at the National Archives is responsible for coordinating declassification reviews of records and currently lists record series prioritized for declassification on its website: www.archives.gov/declassification. The NDC is also responsible for reviewed classified Presidential records and materials for declassification. The National Archives is responsible for maintaining and updating its online catalog, including both series of records available for research as well as digital images for select records. The National Archives invites public comment on its blogs, including those related to public access. For records not yet in NARA’s legal custody, agencies are required to conduct declassification reviews.  In the new system we envision in our report, an Executive Committee led by the Director of National Intelligence and comprised of agencies, would offer implementation guidance for prioritizing declassification reviews that will allow improved access.

 

 

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