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President Moves to Standardize "Sensitive but Unclassified" Marking

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  1. Freedom of Information
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Two days after he signed an executive order calling for more efficient and courteous handling of Freedom of Information Act requests, President Bush quietly sent a memorandum to department and agency heads calling for government-wide standardization of the document identifier “Sensitive But Unclassified.” SBU is used to withhold information as part of what many critics refer to as a Fourth Level of Classification, or pseudo-classification. There are an estimated 55 separate definitions of SBU among federal agencies, all used as a means to label records the agency wants withheld from public disclosure but which are in theory still subject to FOIA. The Bush directive, part of a broader memorandum implementing information sharing requirements among agencies, requires each agency to inventory and assess the effectiveness of its use of SBU in a report to the Director of National Intelligence, who will then recommend standardized procedures for use of the SBU marking. (12/19/05)