Open government groups call on ODNI to remove burdensome cost barriers to mandatory declassification

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2016 – Today, 16 organizations committed to government openness and accountability submitted comments to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) opposing a new proposal that would severely restrict the ability of the public to file requests to declassify information held by the intelligence community. The letter calls on ODNI to withdraw its proposed rule, which would impose burdensome fees on Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests – fees that are inconsistent with ODNI’s fee structure for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 

The MDR process is an important and successful tool for researchers, historians, and public interest advocates in part because of the independent accountability and oversight the program provides. Unlike with FOIA requests, if an agency fails to declassify and release the information under the MDR process, requesters can appeal the agency’s decision to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) for independent review. According to figures from the Information Security Oversight Office, ISCAP officials overruled agency classification decisions in whole or in part in 75 percent of the formal challenges in FY 2014.

The letter draws attention to the previous efforts by the CIA to impose burdensome fees for processing MDR requests. After widespread public objections to the proposal, spearheaded by and the National Security Archive, and following a lawsuit filed by the National Security Counselors, the CIA suspended implementation of the its fee proposal pending the results of the case.

The lack of official notification of the proposed change for MDR requests is also contradictory to ODNI’s Principles of Intelligence Transparency for the Intelligence Community, which specifically state that the Intelligence Community will “be proactive and clear in making information publicly available through authorized channels,” including taking affirmative steps to “provide timely transparency on matters of public interest.”

Read the letter here.