Sensitive Security Information - Criticism and Praise of The SSI Policies

Criticism and Praise of The SSI Policies

In September 2004, two members of the House Appropriations Committee requested that auditors review how the Homeland Security Department is using its authority to withhold transportation security information from the public. The concern is that material needs to be protected, but the public also needs to be advised of information that affects their safety and security.

Some examples in question were:

  • The TSA was had written responses to questions that were designated as sensitive security information, but did not treat the same information as sensitive the month earlier.
  • The TSA had said certain information related to the electronic screening of checked baggage at airports was SSI where this information had already been exposed to the public domain.

It was determined that the TSA's application of the SSI regulations has resulted in some disputes over airport security procedures, employee accountability, passenger screening, and airport secrecy agreements. Some believe that ‘’too much’’ information has been withheld from the public regarding some of these circumstances.

The resulting opinion was that sensitive material needs to be protected, but the public also needs to be informed of information that affects safety and security. "Although the release of certain sensitive information could put the nation's citizens and infrastructure at risk, the federal government should be mindful of the public's legitimate interest in, and right to know, information related to threats to the transportation system and associated vulnerabilities. Accordingly, access to this information should only be limited when it is necessary to guard against those who pose a threat and their ability to develop techniques to subvert security measures."

In a November 30, 2007, report to Congress entitled Transportation Security Administration’s Processes for Designating and Releasing Sensitive Security Information, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated:

"DHS, primarily through TSA’s SSI Office, has addressed all of the legislative mandates from the DHS Appropriations Act, 2007, and taken actions to satisfy all of the recommendations from our June 2005 report. DHS revised its MD (i.e., Management Directive) to address the need for updating SSI guidance, and TSA has established more extensive SSI criteria and examples that respond to requirements in the DHS Appropriations Act, 2007, and our 2005 recommendation that TSA establish guidance and procedures for using TSA regulations to determine what constitutes SSI. Further, TSA has documented the criteria and examples in various publications to serve as guidance for identifying and designating SSI. TSA has also shared its documentation of the criteria and examples with other DHS agencies."

In Congressional testimony on information sharing for homeland security, and controlled unclassified information (CUI) presented on July 28, 2008, GAO went even further when stating:

"The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) program on managing information it designates as sensitive security information could serve as a model to guide other agencies’ implementation of CUI."

Read more about this topic:  Sensitive Security Information

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