The Navy is now instructing its personnel who classify records to consider ways they might group ordinarily unclassified records together to qualify as a compilation that could be considered classified — a practice called classification by compilation.
The creative thinking at the Navy abounds — shame it’s being harnessed in ways to keep truly unclassified (and thus, innocuous) information from the citizens of the country it serves, rather than, say, working to actually serve the public.
July’s policy changes now instruct Naval classifiers that they "may" begin designating as classified "compilations of items of information that are individually unclassified" if those records together could meet "the standard for classification" or would have a relationship that would not otherwise be "revealed in the individual items of information."
Its rationale for classification by compilation is that there is now a "large volume of data transmitted and stored on unclassified and classified Department of the Navy (DON) networks and websites." Classifiers are instructed to consider classifying records in this regard in each of a dozen sets of instructions from the Chief of Naval Operations, Secrecy News reported.
Using compilations to classify otherwise unclassified records is nothing new or unique to the Navy, and is much-criticized by transparency advocates. But you have to hand it to the Navy for continuing to reach for ways to implement the edict set forth in the Bush administration’s memo on release of public records under the Freedom of Information Act, even up to the bitter end: so long as there is a "sound legal basis" to withhold records, "you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions."
Here’s hoping that creative thinking transfers to the new administration and in 2009 there’s encouragement to find ways to actually serve the public by releasing unclassified, innocuous records.