A group of senators introduced bipartisan legislation this week that aims to reform the security classification system to reduce overclassification, prevent mishandling of classified information, promote better use of intelligence, and enhance public trust – including investing in new technology to do just that.

The Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman, Mark Warner, D-Va., alongside Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced a package of bills on May 10 – the Sensible Classification Act and the Classification Reform Act – to overhaul the government’s security classification system.

“The government systematically overclassifies too much information, at a dangerous cost to both the nation’s security and the public trust. At the same time, we too often fail to protect the nation’s most important secrets. As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I think it is clear that our security classification system is badly in need of change,” Sen. Warner said.

“Given the explosion in digital records, the status quo is no longer tenable. We’ve got too many people with access to a system that is devoid of accountability and has grown increasingly byzantine, bureaucratic, and outmoded,” he added. “We need to protect our national security secrets, and then declassify those secrets when protections are no longer necessary.”

The Sensible Classification Act of 2023 will:

  • Invest in new technology to modernize the classification system;
  • Streamline the processes for declassification;
  • Direct training focused on sensible classification;
  • Codify classification authority; and
  • Direct a review regarding the necessity of existing security clearances.

The Classification Reform Act of 2023 will undertake significant reforms to the classification process by:

  • Establishing a new system of governance and accountability for the security classification system;
  • Requiring that information only be or remain classified where the harm to national security outweighs public interest;
  • Enforcing a maximum 25-year period for classification;
  • Creating financial incentives that effectively “tax” agencies based on how many classified records they generate;
  • Mandating minimum standards for executive branch insider threat programs; and
  • Requiring security review of presidential and vice presidential records.

“In the digital age, our classification system is absorbing a flood of new, critical information,” Sen. Moran said. “When it comes to declassifying documents, our current analog declassification process is about as effective as using an eye dropper to drain a flood.”

“These deficiencies undermine our national security, and a backlog of unnecessary classified material is harming our ability to protect what should be secret from our enemies,” he said. “We are long overdue for an overhaul that begins with an up-to-date declassification system in order to better secure our national secrets.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.