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Sunday, 30th December 2012

The Protection of Classified Information: The Legal Framework

Source: Congressional Research Service via Federation of American Scientists

The publication of secret information by WikiLeaks and multiple media outlets, followed by news coverage of leaks involving high-profile national security operations, has heightened interest in the legal framework that governs security classification and declassification, access to classified information, agency procedures for preventing and responding to unauthorized disclosures, and penalties for improper disclosure. Classification authority generally rests with the executive branch, although Congress has enacted legislation regarding the protection of certain sensitive information. While the Supreme Court has stated that the President has inherent constitutional authority to control access to sensitive information relating to the national defense or to foreign affairs, no court has found that Congress is without authority to legislate in this area.

This report provides an overview of the relationship between executive and legislative authority over national security information, and summarizes the current laws that form the legal framework protecting classified information, including current executive orders and some agency regulations pertaining to the handling of unauthorized disclosures of classified information by government officers and employees. The report also summarizes criminal laws that pertain specifically to the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, as well as civil and administrative penalties. Finally, the report describes some recent developments in executive branch security policies and legislation currently before Congress (S. 3454).

+ Direct link to document (PDF; 334 KB)



Having begun his career in academic libraries, Adrian Janes has subsequently worked extensively in public libraries, chiefly in enquiry work as an Information Services librarian. In this role he has had particular responsibility for information from both the UK Government and the European Union. He wrote a detailed report on sources for the latter which was published by FreePint in 2007, and has contributed articles to FreePint and ResourceShelf. He is involved in training in information literacy and the use of online reference resources.

A Contributing Editor to DocuTicker, he also write reviews for Pennyblackmusic.

Adrian can be reached at adrian.janes@freepint.com

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