Classified Document Security Concerns
By: Alexander Winton
A 21-year-old National Guardsman has been arrested for leaking classified documents on Discord. The documents in question were defense and security-related and were classified as understanding National Security Law and executive orders. The leak has raised questions about the system of document classification and information security enforcement in government agencies.
In an interview with Madelyn Sanfilippo, a professor of information sciences at the University of Illinois, she revealed that government agencies classify information in three ways. The first is free classification, which is the least contentious of the three. The second is via executive order for defense-related and security-related information. The third is through targeted regulations that impact specific types of information and are operationalized at the level of individual federal agencies.
When asked about the typical consequences of violating information security rules, Sanfilippo explained that it depends on the scale and magnitude of what happened. Consequences are proportional to the number of documents in play, their sensitivity, and the extent to which the person handling them should have known better. In this case, the National Guardsman had a high-level security clearance and deliberately copied and digitized a series of documents over a period of time, which were then disseminated online. Sanfilippo believes that this exposes a significant flaw in the system of physical document safeguarding and suggests that moving forward, the government could imagine a system in which secure digital documents are used instead.
Sanfilippo was also asked whether it is possible to leak classified information to the public without breaking the law or risking national security. The leak of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade came to mind. She responded that it depends on who the actor is and what rules apply to them. In this case, federal law, executive orders, and specific military rules apply, making it illegal for the National Guardsman to leak classified information.
Sanfilippo believes that recent events involving leaks of classified information raise the question of how to improve information governance in government agencies. She suggests that there should be a balance between promoting transparency and accountability while also ensuring that sensitive information remains secure. She believes that moving to secure digital documents could be a way to achieve this balance.