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Declassification definition

Generally, declassification is removing the “classified“ label from information or documents that were once kept secret for privacy or national security reasons. This action makes the information accessible to the general public.

In the context of cybersecurity, declassification can refer to two main things:

  • Declassification of cybersecurity threat information. Certain information, like potential threats, vulnerabilities, and safety measures, might be classified. It is particularly applicable to organizations working in sensitive industries or national security. Declassification means this information is no longer deemed sensitive and can be widely shared. This can contribute to collective cybersecurity knowledge and help organizations defend themselves. Still, careful checks are needed to ensure that no sensitive information is accidentally shared.
  • Declassification of data in systems. Information is often categorized by how sensitive it is, like public, confidential, secret, or top-secret. Declassification involves downgrading the sensitivity level of certain data. This can change how the data is handled, stored, or transmitted. Declassification occurs when the information no longer requires the same level of protection.

Declassification process

Declassification is a process designed to ensure that information no longer deemed sensitive can be made public without jeopardizing national security, privacy, or other crucial interests. While the exact steps might vary, a typical declassification process might look like this:

  • Review for declassification. This is the first step in the declassification process. A trained review official thoroughly reviews the document or material. The goal is to determine if the data is still sensitive and if its release would pose any risk to national security, privacy, or other interests.
  • Declassification decision. The review results guide the decision whether to declassify the information. This decision is made by an authorized official who has the power to classify or declassify information. In some cases, automatic declassification rules apply after a certain period unless specific exemptions apply.
  • Declassification action. If a decision is made to declassify the information, the actual declassification takes place. This may involve removing classification markings or labels or moving the data to a system accessible to wider audiences.
  • Public release. Once the information is declassified, it is often made available to the public. This can occur through a formal release process or by including the declassified information in public databases or archives.
  • Record keeping. As a part of good governance, organizations keep records of what information has been declassified, when, and by whom. This is important for transparency and accountability and also aids in managing information over time.