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Open source information (OSIF) (also written as Open Source Information) is

comprised of data that can be put together, generally by an editorial process that provides some filtering and validation as well as presentation management. OSIF is generic information that is usually widely disseminated. Newspapers, books, broadcast, and general daily reports are part of the OSIF world.[1]
[i]ndividual data, records, reports, and assessments that may shed light on an investigatory target or event which does not require any legal process or any type of clandestine collection techniques for a law enforcement agency to obtain. Rather, it is obtained through means that meet copyright and commercial requirements of vendors, as well as being free of legal restrictions to access by anyone who seeks that information.[2]


Open source information is publicly available information and can be collected, retained, and stored without special authorization. It generally falls into four categories:[3] widely available data and information; targeted commercial data; individual experts; and gray literature, which consists of written information produced by the private sector, government, and academe that has limited availability, either because few copies are produced, existence of the material is largely unknown, or access to information is constrained.[4] Within these four categories, open source information can include:

  • media such as newspaper, magazines, radio, television, and computer-based information;
  • public data such as government reports, and official data such as budgets and demographics, hearings, legislative debates, press conferences, and speeches;
  • information derived from professional and academic sources such as conferences, symposia, professional associations, academic papers, dissertations and theses, and experts;[5]
  • commercial data such as commercial imagery; and,
  • gray literature such as trip reports, working papers, discussion papers, unofficial government documents, proceedings, preprints, research reports, studies, and market surveys.[6]

Open source information also can include information, which although unclassified, could be considered company proprietary, financially sensitive, legally protected, or personally damaging.[7] With increasing frequency, it also includes information derived from Internet blogs. According to Intelligence Community officials, blogs are providing "a lot of rich information that are telling us a lot about social perspective and everything from what the general feeling is[,], to . . . people putting information on there that doesn't exist anywhere else."[8]


  1. NATO Open Source Intelligence Handbook, at 2.
  2. Baseline Capabilities for State and Major Urban Area Fusion Centers, at 51.
  3. Amy Sands, "Integrating Open Sources into Transnational Threat Assessments," in Jennifer E. Sims & Burton Gerber, Transforming U.S. Intelligence 65 (2005).
  4. Id.
  5. See Mark M. Lowenthal, Intelligence, From Secrets to Policy 79 (2d ed. 2003)
  6. Amy Sands, at 64-65.
  7. Id. at 65.
  8. See Bill Gertz, “CIA Mines ‘Rich’ Content From Blogs,” Wash. Times, Apr. 19, 2006, at 4.

See also[]