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Declassification is

[t]he determination that, in the interests of national security, classified information no longer requires any degree of protection against unauthorized disclosure, coupled with removal or cancellation of the classification designation.[1]
[a] determination by an appropriate authority that information or matter no longer requires protection as classified information against unauthorized disclosure because of national security concerns.[2]
the authorized change in the status of information from classified information to unclassified information.[3]
[a] procedure and an administrative action to remove the security classification of the subject media. The procedural aspect of declassification is the actual purging of the media and removal of any labels denoting classification, possibly replacing them with labels denoting that the storage media is unclassified. The administrative aspect is realized through the submission to the appropriate authority of a decision memorandum to declassify the storage media.[4]
[a]n administrative action following sanitization of the IS or the storage media that the owner of the IS or media takes when the classification is lowered to unclassified. Declassification allows release of the media from the controlled environment if approved by the appropriate authorities.[5]

United States[]

Executive Order 13526 establishes the mechanisms for most declassifications, within the laws passed by Congress. The originating agency assigns a declassification date, by default 10 years. After 25 years declassification review is automatic, with nine narrow exceptions that allow information to continue to be classified. At 50 years there are two exceptions, and classifications beyond 75 years require special permission. Because of changes in policy and circumstances, agencies are expected to actively review documents that have been classified for fewer than 25 years. They must also respond to Mandatory Declassification Review and Freedom of Information Act requests.

The National Archives and Records Administration houses the National Declassification Center to coordinate reviews and the Information Security Oversight Office to promulgate rules and enforce quality measures across all agencies. NARA reviews documents on behalf of defunct agencies and permanently stores declassified documents for public inspection. The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel has representatives from several agencies.

"There are four declassification programs within the executive branch: automatic declassification, systematic declassification review, discretionary declassification review, and mandatory declassification review."[6]


  1. U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Pub. 1–02: DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Nov. 8, 2010, as amended through May 15, 2011) (full-text).
  2. DOE Manual 470.4-7, at 18.
  3. Executive Order 13526, at §6.1(m).
  4. A Guide to Understanding Data Remanence in Automated Information Systems.
  5. DCID 6/3, Glossary, App. B.
  6. ISOO 2013 Annual Report to the President, at 7.

See also[]

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